Thomas Mars doesn’t plan in advance when and where he will crowd-surf during performances. The lead singer of French rock band Phoenix said it just kind of happens. But at 36 years old, the father of two and husband of director Sofia Coppola acknowledged he probably needs to stop soon.
There’s a risk involved with jumping in the audience, one Mars knows too well. He had such a hard time getting out of a crowd in Brazil, he fainted once he made it back to the stage. And then, according to his interview with Rolling Stone, there was the show in Australia where someone repeatedly tried to steal his shoe.
“I get carried away,” said Mars, no pun intended, over the phone Sept. 19 from New York. “It’s a strange moment because you lose track of space and time. You abandon yourself sometimes. I think it’s time to stop. But I don’t really think about these (risks) when we’re playing. If I did, everything would tell me, ‘No. Why do such a thing?’
“It’s a nice way to get to know the crowd and not be so clinical and protected. Not that the shows shouldn’t be safe. But a lot of shows these days are about VIP seating and lots of security. When I was a teenager, I remember shows were the opposite. It wasn’t a riot, but it was wild. I want the same sort of energy.”
Mars, whose band will perform Saturday at the Aragon Ballroom, enjoys unpredictability. It’s why Phoenix had fellow Frenchmen Daft Punk join the band for a surprise collaboration during its show at Madison Square Garden in 2010 and did the same with R&B singer R. Kelly during a set show at Coachella Festival in April. There was talk of reuniting with the Chicago native on stage when Phoenix headlined Lollapalooza in August, but nothing came of it.
“We did say at the end of Coachella that we would be playing Chicago soon, but we never really talked further about it,” Mars said. “There wouldn’t be much pleasure in repeating it. It would have been predictable. It needs to be something where you can fail greatly, otherwise there’s nothing interesting about it.”
That might explain why, during shows, Mars will lie still on stage singing for what he said is about 10 minutes. Mars used to think there was a chance fans might leave, but now they expect it. Of course, that’s the last thing he wants.
“Maybe I should change it,” Mars said.
Performing on stage hasn’t come easy for Mars. He wishes he had the confidence of “The Godfather of Soul” James Brown, but he said he and his bandmates are actually pretty shy. He remembers one French record industry executive telling him that Phoenix had the stage presence of heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath — and he didn’t mean that in a good way.
It probably didn’t help the band’s confidence when some questioned if Phoenix was worthy of headlining Lollapalooza in 2010. The band’s “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,” took home the 2010 Grammy for best alternative music album, but some felt it wasn’t as established as fellow headliners Green Day, Lady Gaga, Arcade Fire, The Strokes and Soundgarden.
“Whenever people announce the festival headliners, you usually want every one of them to be a big name,” Mars said. “We were probably the smallest name headlining. Some people were disappointed they didn’t get a bigger band. It was risky, but the show went well and really helped us out. That was a big moment for us.”
There was far less criticism when Phoenix was announced as a headliner for Lollapalooza this year, which meant the band members — whose fourth album, “Bankrupt,” was released in April and peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 chart — had less to prove. Still, that didn’t stop Mars from crowd-surfing to close out the show.
He can’t help it.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W. Lawrence Avenue
Tickets: $42, aragon.com