The Mancunion

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Live: Phox

Phox soldier on through a sparsely attended show with class and composure


11th November

Soup Kitchen


If, when Jean-Paul Sartre wrote “hell is other people”, he was implying that the complete lack thereof is heaven, the Phox gig was something close to nirvana. Somewhere in the region of 10 people turned up to the Soup Kitchen gig but Phox cheerfully played a heartfelt, impassioned show despite this. They even subverted the emptiness to be a positive of the evening, using conversation and disarming laughter to build intimacy.

Phox are a sextet from Wisconsin who describe themselves as a “gaggle of goofy wizards”, but don’t let this put you off them; they aren’t half as cheesy or annoying as this would imply. The group make sugary, folky, easy listening pop in the vein of Feist and Mumford and Sons and 2013 saw them receive recognition and acclaim for EP Confetti. They performed at the SXSW showcase, played a slot at the London iTunes festival and were crowned Wisconsin’s “musical success story of 2013”. A starry year of globetrotting compared to the humble lives they lead in Wisconsin, where lead singer Monica Martin still works as a barista.

Music that consists of carefully played instruments and stunning vocals, always sounds better live. The brain assumes that the slick perfection of each recording is the product of multiple studio attempts and tireless editing. However, live Phox perform each song is surprisingly perfectly, flawlessly. Almost a clone of the recording, but slightly better. The singsong-y tunes, tinkling pianos and Martin’s lyrics on record are so sugary sweet it starts to hurt your teeth. But live there is a bitter undertone that makes the sound distinctly more palatable, and poignant.

They sing about depression, bad blow jobs and losing love, but it always sounds, by their own admission, “flowery” on records. ‘Slow Motion’, a song about Martin’s experience of depression may as well be about sweets and puppies when I listen to it on Spotify, but live the lyrics are more striking, enunciated, and the meaning of the song shines through. They end beautifully on ‘Evil’ and a jovial version of ‘Nobel Heart’, interspersed with laughter is another highlight of the night.

Phox aren’t fresh, exciting or to my tastes, but they make undeniably pleasant music and put on a moving show. Undoubtedly there is a bravery to playing your heart out to an empty room and they did it with class and composure.