By Carter G. Shelter
Aided by the blistering cold outside, PHOX brought the raw beauty of the snowy woods of Wisconsin to Brooklyn on Sunday night. The band, currently in the midst of its first major headlining tour, makes music that falls somewhere between the baroque pop of Regina Spektor and the woodsy folk of Fleet Foxes.
PHOX have seen their star gradually rise in the last couple of years after developing an intensely devoted following in Madison, Wisconsin. Capped off by the release of their self-titled LP last year, the band is seemingly floating on air. Much of their set was drawn from the new release, augmented by some covers and non-album tracks.
They began the show with “Shrinking Violets” and “Leisure.” It quickly became clear that the band’s skill lies in their ability to craft intricate soundscapes and compositions over which singer Monica Martin can lay her delicately floating yet powerful rasp. Her voice is light but filled the entire venue with the kind of warmth that is appreciated in this weather. This was especially true when the band donned acoustic instruments and stepped around a single microphone center stage. A hush fell over the crowd as the band played a string of standout tracks from the album, including “1936,” “Kingfisher,” and “Evil.” Gathering around the microphone, Martin said, recalls the way they write their songs gathered together in the house they share.
“I understand that this is a hip-hopping Sunday night,” Martin remarked, tongue-in-cheek, “but do you mind if we do an a cappella song?”
The crowd roared their approval as Martin, along with keyboard player Matt Roberts and bassist Jason Krunnfusz, remained at the microphone to sing “I Will Smile When I Think Of You,” a song written by fellow Wisconsin singer-songwriter J. E. Sunde. Roberts’ and Krunnfusz’s harmonies proved to be a highlight throughout the night.
Returning to their usual instruments, the band jumped into their first single, “Slow Motion,” a song that Martin described as being about “staying in bed all day. And not in the good way.” Her between-song banter was often humorous, at one point equating looking at the setlist on the floor to looking at a “graveyard of exes.” “Slow Motion” flowed seamlessly into the atmospheric jam “Blue and White” and then into “Noble Heart,” which featured a searing guitar solo and powerful trumpet solo, both from guitarist Matt Holmen.
Opting to forego an encore, Martin brought out her friend Rae Cassidy to sing The Ronnettes’ “Be My Baby” a cappella, a practice she said sprung from drunken nights singing in Nashville bars. Martin then sang “Calico Man,” the opening song from their album, and a cover of The Thrills’ “Not For All The Love In The World” with the assistance of Krunnfusz’s impressive falsetto harmonies.
To close out the show, the full band returned for a fantastic rendition of “Espeon,” which Martin told the crowd was written about her sister and named after her favorite Pokémon. The band left the stage to continue their tour and the crowd reluctantly stepped back out into the frigid February air.
Carter G. Shelter is a contributing writer. Email him at email@example.com