April 21, 2010
Phantogram is a band from upstate New York that I was introduced to by Cheryse, when she did an artist spotlight on them early this year. Since then, the duo’s profile has raised significantly with positive reviews across the board on their debut album Eyelid Movies and plenty of blog buzz. In their opening set for The Antlers on Saturday, they drew a pretty sizable crowd of both newcomers to the band and adoring fans who knew their songs by heart and chatted with the band in between songs. Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter were very likable and seemed genuinely thrilled to be there, even when their video effects malfunctioned for the first couple of songs. Their set-up was very minimal with Sarah working the synths / laptop, Josh on the guitar / sampler and both of them on vocals, but they were able to create an expansive, dazzling sound with the tools in their arsenal. I was extremely impressed with how they recreated some of nuances from the album like vocal looping and digital samples on stage.
Perhaps the most extraordinary about Phantogram, is the songs themselves, which are well-crafted and fully absorbing. The band has undoubtedly strong songwriting chops which were very visible in the live performances of captivating electro-pop songs like “Mouthful of Diamonds”, “Running From The Cops”, and “When I’m Small”. Their songs are easy to sing along with and even easier to dance with. Josh and Sarah’s vocal harmonies were fantastic, bucking the trend of electronica bands who can’t deliver live on vocals. Sarah especially is a magnificent vocalist and was able to sing sublimely while playing the synths/keyboards and triggering lights / videos on her laptop. They added some additional harmonies with vocal looping which was very cool to see. The video projections were well done, images like fuzzy static and rippling water matched the bands aesthetic very well (they also utilized strobe lights which are always fun). The band played through a short set of highlights from their Eyelid Movies and a vinyl-only track called “Make A Fist”. I imagine with as much talent and charisma as they showed on stage, they’ll have no problem headlining their own shows soon.
The Antlers made my favorite debut album last year and since Hospice was released I’ve been able to see the band three times. This was the first headlining set I’d seen them perform and it’s amazing to see the progression of this band in such a short time (check out they’re touring schedule: next month: Europe, then opening for The National, then Lollapalooza). The band has grown to be even more dynamic and passionate in their performance since the last time I saw them, which was showcased in their opener “Kettering”, which had Pete hitting some high notes that I didn’t know existed. There was a jump in the crowd when the Micheal’s drums came in after the quiet intro. The percussion is noticeably louder and more energetic then on record, while Darby’s keyboards still play a huge part in create that haunting, dreamy atmosphere. One thing that amazes me every time I see this band is how they maintain the emotion of the record, which is really one you have to hear front to back, in their live set. This is a testament to the band’s dedication and visible passion to their music, at some points it’s hard to watch as Pete sings so honestly about tragedy and heartbreak.
One very exciting part of the show was when the band debuted a new song that had never been played live. The song felt very consistent with the rest of the band’s catalog, with a very pretty keyboard melody and some of Pete’s lovely falsetto-ed vocals. Next up was the seminal moment of the show, “Two” which is one of my favorite songs of the last few years and was, like always, a magnificent and profoundly affecting performance. The introduction of the song also featured the best line of the night, after the band humorlessly debated the “newness” of the song, Pete quoted Marty McFly, “but your kids are gonna love it” and then jumped immediately into the song. Back to the Future references always make me smile. I had to make a quick exit before their final song, “Wake”, but I’m sure it provided as epic of a climax to the show as I remembered it last time. Overall it was another excellent showing from the trio, but after following this band closely for nearly a year and a half, I wouldn’t expect anything less.
Follow the jump below for more pictures from the night. Click here for the full set.