Knox Hamilton hasn’t had the best record with coming to Phoenix. Last time they were supposed to play in the Valley of the Sun, their van broke down, and they had to cut dates while finding a replacement vehicle. Soon after, they were speeding straight through the desert to make it to their next date in San Diego.
“We used to play here a lot,” said guitarist Drew Buffington after the show, remembering performances scattered across the past few years opening for Colony House, Grizfolk, and others. Those were the days before “Work it Out” was an indie pop staple.
Their performance on Tuesday was one that delivered. A neon pink light that spelled out “KNOX HAMILTON” served as the backdrop, and the group looked confident and purposeful in their headlining slot–their first ever on a tour. Audience banter was aplenty, and front man Boots Copeland has never looked so relaxed up on stage. He was even poking fun at their opening act, Alex Di Leo, and telling the crowd he was surprised they weren’t shouting “Take your shirt off!” during Di Leo’s set. This, of course, encouraged the screaming, mostly from the throngs of teenage girls who had packed themselves tightly as far forward as they could go.
Alex Di Leo—the vocalist himself, as well as his pop project—fit the bill for The Beach Boy Tour. Drawing inspiration from Coldplay, OneRepublic, and Phoenix, his refreshing melodies and pensive lyrics evoke the feeling of an endless summer. Played live, though, there was a roughness around the edges rather than sounding perfect and polished. And in a captivating twist, the band brought out standing drums to all play together and shake the room so we could feel the drum beats in our chests.
“Sometimes it’s hard having them go before us because then that’s what we have to follow,” Boots said about Di Leo, who joined the crowd after their set. They fit right in with the fans who were dancing and singing right up against the stage.
Still, though, Knox Hamilton were the shining stars who floated flawlessly between their beachy tracks. “Beach Boy” of course set the tone for the set full of danceable 80s-reminiscent pop from their new EP and last year’s full length. Highlights included enchanting harmonies in “How’s Your Mind” and the crowd being miraculously on key for the bridge in “Pretty Way to Fight.” Boots and co. also had coordinated dance moves back and forth on the stage.
Half the room (the underage side) was bouncing the whole time, but everyone slowed for ballad “The Heights.” A gentle quiet fell over the room that felt almost reverent, and couples held each other while hushed voices joined Boots in singing.
Knox Hamilton saved the biggest for last with “Washed Up Together” and “Work it Out” back to back as their closeout, and somehow the crowd went even wilder. Barely any phones were out; all eyes were on the band.
It’s been a couple of years since scientists proved that attending concerts benefits your mental health, but certain moments reinforce the findings. For example: the tail end of a show that sounded like sunshine in a setlist, hearing hundreds of voices joined together for an extended chorus that also served as a reminder. “I know, I know, I know, I know, I know we can work it out!”
Story and photos by Taylor Gilliam