On October 7th, 2013, Phoenix played a secret show for 500 students in the gym of Anderson High School in Austin, Texas. “It almost felt like we were in the ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ video,” recalls singer Thomas Mars of their show, which was filmed for PBS’ Live From the Artists Den series. Now, you can watch an exclusive preview clip of “Chloroform” from that night.
The French stars were already in town for the Austin City Limits festival and, Mars explains, they’d always wanted to play a show in a setting like that. “The whole high school experience in the United States is very exotic for us,” he tells Rolling Stone. “We actually thought about doing a whole tour at some point of high school shows, so this was sort of a test to see if it could work.”
Growing up in Versailles, France, Mars and his bandmates spent time at a high school where rock music was definitely not welcome. “It was very strict – like, English strict,” the singer says with a laugh. “There was a Nurse Ratched character there. That’s how strict it was.”
Anderson High principal Donna Houser says she was first approached by Live From the Artists Den producers last spring about hosting a Phoenix show. “I had heard of the band from the kids at school, but I didn’t know much about them,” she says. “So I listened to some of their songs, and it was wonderful. My first thought was, ‘This’ll be a great attendance incentive.'”
In the fall, Houser offered tickets to the show as a reward for students with perfect attendance records. While the school had suggested that Phoenix play in its auditorium, which has a proper stage, the band requested the basketball gym instead. “It wasn’t too big,” says Mars. “But that’s one of our favorite things.”
The band members visited Anderson High on the Sunday night before the show, meeting with film and theater students. The following evening, they returned to rock out in the gym. “It was incredible to see how the kids reacted,” Mars says. “The first three or four songs, they were really intimidated because there was a camera and a teacher. But it ended up getting really chaotic – in a good way. They invaded the stage. Those girls had no boundaries!”
Adds Mars, “There’s no way we could do a [high school] tour. But I’m glad we did one show like that – and that it’s on tape.”
Phoenix’s episode of Live From the Artists Den kicks off the show’s seventh season on February 1st on PBS.