Framed by reeled in monsters of the deep, underneath twinkling Christmas lights that refuse to come down like their deflated balloon brethren, The Hideout was probably the most befittingly random venue for the Baraboo natives of PHOX earlier this week. To call them quirky indie pop doesn’t correctly bestow the natural essence of the group of longtime friends. Quirky doesn’t capture that they act, on stage, like a family reunited each year around a mic; that family of crazy uncles and aunts you want to bring your new girlfriend or boyfriend to meet, purely to leave a lasting impression of how fun in its purest sense your family can be.
And then there’s the effortless heartwarming making fun of said family members. That’s PHOX.
They make music too! “Shrinking Violets” puckishly opened the evening after WXRT gave a warm welcome to who they, among others, are heralding as one of the best up-and-coming bands. Matteo Roberts on the keys peppered this opening ditty with notes running like that animated young kid off on a carefree journey of his imagination. Monica Martin, her diminutively powerful voice framed by a massively great gold necklace, opened rather unassumingly, letting Zach Johnston, J. Sean, and Dave Roberts musically ripen the song as her voice blossomed by choruses opened fully before the packed tiny venue. Once in bloom, “Evil” led that imaginative kid and his willingly following audience down that gold brick road right into a romp of versus bobbing and weaving with charged flourishes. Far more comfortable on stage when far from their home up around Madison, PHOX has grown tighter, and warmed up entirely by the end of “Evil.”
While “Shrinking Violets” and “Evil” may be new to those people just catching on to Wisconsin’s most darling export since squeaky cheese (they were from earlier, now out of print releases), “Slow Motion” bumped up against “Blue and White” basked the Hideout in familiarity off Confetti. Little wisps of wackiness, long a hallmark of PHOX since their inception, burst in mini pockets like Matt Holmen testing J. Sean’s focus with too close for comfort maracas. Once again, like that little brother at the family reunion tugging, poking, and winning at drawing family members from the couch out into a brighter world outdoors. The post-“Motion” cheers roared forward, tempered as Matteo introduced “Blue and White.”
“Nineteen Thirty-Six” and “Garden of Night” lovingly brought back the good ole days of late 2012 and 2013. Two older songs that tenderly, through nostalgically rich veins of golden vintage sunsets, convinced the concertgoers of the beauty that is to come when the debut album is released in June on Partisan Records. This evening, three new songs were introduced, including for the encore. One focused on love and relationships, satyrs and fawns, showed a continued progression musically towards incorporating elements of new genres. An acoustic number, unplugged and thankfully easy to catch despite a packed house, called to mind the wonderful previous a cappella PHOX would grace ears with from time to time. While the latter, treating languid leisure, had a good solid bump to it.
Yet the highlight, aside from Monica’s wonderful quips of how the Hideout was everything she wants her house to be, to the audience howling over the end of “Garden of Night,” was the beautiful treat of “Kingfisher” and its soaring, lovingly layered choruses. Well, it was before the Bianca Martin dedicated track “Espeon” left people in a comforting haze of musical warmth from the tips of toes to the last thread of knitted caps.
Blue and White
Garden of Night