This was my first time back at the Phoenix in over five years. Never has a place felt so completely familiar and yet also so oddly foreign. It seems like I know every inch of the place, having stared at these pastel coloured four walls dozens of times over a fifteen year period. But I'm also an outsider now, it no longer feels like *my* place, it feels like *their* place. A venue "belongs" to the people who frequent it, and that's definitely not me, at least not recently. And who are these people, these Ladytron fans? It's a surprisingly male dominated crowd with a few goth types mixed in. What was once a niche electro-pop band who weren't expected to last until the end of the last decade have carved themselves a healthy slice of the local indie scene. The truly surprising thing about the crowd tonight is how boring and generic looking they are.
I only catch the last five minutes of Sonoio's set, which is a shame because it's great stuff, a midpoint between kid-friendly 80's synthpop and the noisy aggression of 00's industrial and rhythmic noise. VHS or Beta seem to have a number of fans in the audience, and to their credit, they come across more as rock stars compared to what you'd expect from bands playing this kind of music. They're kind of like a Depeche Mode-loving version of Linkin Park (or is that just Linkin Park?)
Last year, I wondered aloud whether Ladytron had the endurance to really slay an audience from the gig's start until its finish, and if tonight's set is any indication, it would appear that they knew their limitations too. They've cut the guitars and the noise, loaded up on more synth bells and whistles, slowed the tempos to a more relaxed pace, and settled for going only half throttle. Slow and steady works better for them, even though they sometimes walk a dangerous line between pacing themselves and going through the motions. This style also tends to homogenize their material, cancelling out the highs and lows in favour of a steady stream of middles. But in the end, a juicy selection of oldies mixed in with new tracks from "Gravity the Seducer" show just how many great tunes Ladytron have. The new album might be a mixed bag, but there are enough goodies there to pad their increasingly impressive back catalogue, and once you have enough killer songs in the bag then it's hard to play a sub-par gig.