Live Concert Review: PHASES
The Studio at Webster Hall
July 21, 2015
As I’ve mentioned on a couple of occasions on this site, this past summer had been one of the busier summers in recent memory, and as the summer has unofficially come to a close, I’m still somehow catching up on my live concert coverage over the summer. Now back, in July, I was at The Studio at Webster Hall to catch Warner Brothers recording artists, PHASES. Initially forming under the name JJAMZ, the members of PHASES, Z Berg (The Like), Jason Boesel (Rilo Kiley/Bright Eyes), Alex Greenwald (Phantom Planet), and Michael Runion have over a decade of playing together in a number of iterations before they released their debut effort in 2012.
After touring to support their debut effort, the members of the band felt extremely uncertain of their next step and were just as uncertain as to what kind of sound the project should take. But interestingly enough, the trio of Greenwald, Runion and Boesel decided to continue carry on writing material based on Greenwald’s experimental solo recordings and demos made in his Laurel Canyon living room on an outdated version of GarageBand. Eventually, these recordings made their way to singer/songwriter Z. Berg, who was briefly considering a move to Nashville, and at the time, she was so intrigued by what the trio were doing that she decided that she should just do it and see what happens.
The quartet went into the studio for what they’ve all said were extremely collaborative recording sessions that yielded the 6 songs of their EP, and the material managed to blend different decades and difference influences from each member. Interestingly, EP single “I’m In Love With My Life” managed to capture the attention of the blogosphere for a sound that was reminiscent of 80s New Wave and dance pop — in particular, The Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club and others; in fact, Nylon, Buzzfeed and Flavorwire all praised the song for its upbeat, positive feel.
Over the summer, the newly constituted Phases had started to tour to support “I’m In Love With My Life” as well as their EP, and the tour included the aforementioned stop at The Studio at Webster Hall back in July. The Los Angeles-based quartet had an opener, who had dropped out of the show and it resulted in Phases’ Z. Berg taking the stage for a solo acoustic, folk-singer set which displayed her gorgeous voice — a voice that had was uncannily reminiscent of Joni Mitchell and Bjork. But it also revealed that Berg has unflappable, charming and absolutely genuine stage presence, as she joked during the acoustic set that it was probably not quite what the audience expected but after having a couple of margaritas with her bandmates during lunch, she was suddenly like “I’ll open for us!” She continued by joking that once she was done with the sad songs, that she wanted to get the party started. If there was one thing that was obvious to me it was this — whether with a band or solo, Z. Berg could be a star.
(Photo Caption: Z. Berg performing at The Studio at Webster Hall, in July) A short time later, after an outfit change, Z. Berg with the other members of Phases took the stage and played a set of hook driven, synth and guitar-based pop that would sound warmly familiar, as it bore a resemblance to a number of acts including LCD Soundsystem, Little Boots, St. Lucia, Cut Copy, Haerts, the aforementioned Tom Tom Club and others; however, the material overall suffered from the fact that for such hook-driven material, the hooks sounded and felt as though they weren’t tight enough and with the exception of “I’m In Love With My Life” and a slinky and seductive cover of Duran Duran’s “Come Undone” weren’t very memorable. As she was introducing it, Berg mentioned that it was a show that she didn’t know until recently, and honestly that struck me as kind of strange, as the song was one of the band’s big hits — not only did it receive a ton of radio play when it came out, the song is included on at least one of Duran Duran’s “Best Of” compilations. A slow burning ballad at the set’s mid-point struck me as being plodding and uninteresting, rather than atmospheric and moody. As much as I was charmed by Berg and wanted to like the set because of her, I personally found the set to be frustrating and marred by material that felt as though it needed quite a bit of revision and reworking. It seems as though since their rebranding, that the quartet is still actively trying to find their unique voice and sound — and honestly, it’s a painstaking, difficult process; in fact, countless bands fail as a result of never finding it. Certainly, for Phases sake, I hope they find it.