Phox with Bo and the Locomotive | 06.09.15

Phox 75_2To say they were pristine with pitch-perfect renditions feels accurate, but that would be a distortion of the reality.

 




Phox 75

Old Rock House, St. Louis

I honestly don’t know where to start other than to say Phox is a wonderful band. Seldom am I swooning at first listen, but that’s exactly what happened last year when I was directed to their full album stream on NPR. It was equally classic and contemporary, a genre unto itself, but not amorphous and indistinct.  People throw around terms like “chamber pop” or “baroque pop,” which makes some sense but doesn’t accurately convey the breadth and scope of the music Phox creates. It has a lounge feel at times, the suave of cocktail jazz, and the swagger of  21st century indie pop that borrows equally from urban music as it does late 60s psychedelics. The closest comparison I can think of is Cardigans circa Emmerdale & Life

By all accounts, Phox was said to be as brilliant live as in the recordings. I was privileged to find out for myself at the Old Rock House to start my own personal BonnaLou Festival.

The night started with Bo & the Locomotive putting forth a distinctively midwestern take on rock ‘n’ roll, whether you pair it with roots, folk, indie, or country. They were relaxed and took to the stage with a level of comfort one might not expect from a local opener. You got the impression they were playing as much for each other as for the audience. The band left it to Bo to address the crowd. This came mostly in the form of introducing their songs, many of which came from their latest album, It’s All Downhill from Here. But Bo also told stories with the songs themselves, demanding the audience’s attention with his demeanor and body language as he sung in a voice that was as heartfelt as it was articulate. The Locomotive put me in the mind of Steve Earle and the Dukes or Centro-Matic, minus some of the unabashed twang and raucous bluster. These were songs for a drive into the sun swept horizon, which was ironic because, per Bo’s observation, they began their set with the sun in their eyes thanks to the westward facing windows of the Old Rock House. Their energy and animation grew as the set progressed, at times on the verge of overpowering the room as they pushed further, dug deeper, into the heart of their songs. They graciously exited the stage, having represented their hometown well.

The members of Phox made their way around the Old Rock House prior to their set, greeting friends and fans, taking pictures, and showing a midwestern charm that one might not expect of a band that has received so much acclaim from the national press, deservedly so. When they did take the stage, the crowd had been effectively disarmed to the point where vocalist Monica Martin could have told anecdotes with the band all night and everyone would have been more than satisfied without hearing a note of music. Instead, we were given many witty asides and observations followed by the songs they related to from Phox’s self-titled debut, rendered in stunning fashion.

To say they were pristine with pitch-perfect renditions feels accurate, but that would be a distortion of the reality. The reality was, something as simple as Martin’s poised manner of dealing with an off-mic cough now and again, and their intrusion on an otherwise meticulously composed performance, made elegant readings of songs like “1936” or “Evil” all the more endearing. Another example would be one of the many instrument changes leading to Matt Holmen playing a heroic guitar solo atop a speaker, or giving the audience a smile when he pulled out a small xylophone from a plastic travel case to hit a few key notes with his back to the audience.

The harmonies of Jason Krunnfusz and Matteo Roberts were ever-present, and their tenors blended seamlessly with Martin’s alto as their bass and keys gave the songs body. At one point the entire band sang, with Zach Johnson putting down the guitar, banjo, or flute, and Davey Roberts trading his drum kit for a mandolin. It was these moments that truly showcased the charm of Phox being trumped by their talent, both of which are off the charts. Their chemistry as a band played out in their interactions with each other in-between the songs, and if you came away from this show with anything less than smitten, you have bigger problems than your taste in music to address. | Willie Edward Smith

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