Phantogram at Black Cat, Washington D.C., 10/28/10

phantogram at black cat

Here I was, pressed up against a stage, in a hot windowless room. To top it off I had a headache and somehow manage to stand next to that dude who is at every show. The one who insists on talking loudly through all the opening acts and most likely the main one. Needless to say I wasn’t in the best mood. I was also slightly perturbed at Phantogram. They had already set up all their equipment, looked ready to play, and then left. Left us standing in a nearly pitch dark room. I was confused and bordering on irritated. Suddenly though none of this mattered as the opening refrain of the crispy dance infused As Far As I Can See began to fill the room. Flashing lights light up the darken room as Phantogram appeared stage right entering in the most badass way I’d ever seen at a concert. Their October 28th show was underway and for the next hour they owned the Black Cat.

Phantogram’s 2009 Eyelid Movies (which they played in full), is one of the best genre mixing albums to come out in the last few years. Their blend of trip-hop, street beats, and chillwave immediately grabs listeners’ attention and holds it for hostage for a solid 44 minutes. Eyelid Movies’ distinct air of aggressive sexy mystery is due to a combination of three factors. The alluring vocals provided by guitarist Josh Carter and keyboardist Sarah Barthel, infectious melodies on such songs as track three’s Turn It Off, and finally their intriguing lyrics like “Cause you are the ocean, and I’m good at drowning”. The mystique heard on Eyelid Movies carries over into their live performance quite nicely, giving a visual component to their already visceral sound. Barthel spent the majority of the show curved over her keyboard, hair covering face, as she moved like fluid to the irresistible throb of her expertly executed sound.
carter of phantogram barthel of phantogram w/keyboard
Carter’s performance was more extroverted. During Running From The Cops he reached his hand out to the front row in a kind of interpretive dance move to the lyric ” I want to shake hands with the person that’s responsible for this master plan”.  It added a nice element of playfulness, revealing that the duo doesn’t take their stage persona too seriously. Carter also had more freedom to move about the stage, since he wasn’t tied down to a static instrument (i.e. a keyboard). He employed this to his advantage and often stepped back during the instrumental refrains in order to have more space to steadily flow to the music.

For their tour, Phantogram is employing a drummer and he kept up quite nicely with Barthel and Carter thanks to his epic drumming style. He would lift his arm high in the air for each body-grabbing beat and hit his drum set with an energy that traveled across the stage and into the packed audience.  Phantogram powered through their set, ending it with Eyelid Movies’ energetic opener Mouthful of Diamonds. My only complaint about that choice was that it made my desire to dance go up tenfold just as the concert was ending. Luckily Phantogram came back and performed a three-song encore, including the chilled out 10,000 Claps. 10,000 Claps served as an excellent closing encore, not only because of the finality exuded in the lyrics “Seasonal change, stars rearrange, kissing my grace, why are you bothering me?”, but also because Barthel and Carter provided a great harmony at the end, which isn’t heard on the album.

Phantogram’s tour is winding down, they are playing a few shows in New York and Philadelphia, but it doesn’t look like at the moment they have any plans to extend their tour. Hopefully though this serves as as sign that they are working on their second LP. If Barthel and Carter can deliver 3/4′s the energy they did on Eyelid Movies and continue their trend of delivering great performances, they are going to prove a force to be reckoned with.

By: Stephanie Glass

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