By Josh Hughes
It hadn’t been until a few months back when someone showed me “Don’t Move” that I first truly heard Phantogram. They remained one of the somewhat large participants in the alternative world of music that I’d yet to take the time to listen to. Between the horn samples, groovy guitars, and smooth vocals from Sarah Barthel, I was immediately hooked, to say the least. They seemed somewhere between the likes of the Purity Ring/Crystal Castles/Grimes aesthetic along with some trip-hop and shoegaze influences. So why not. My friend spared me a ticket of hers and I showed up fifteen minutes before doors, luckily getting a spot close to the front cause of my determined friend who got there much earlier.
Right off the bat I was surprised at how many people were there. It seemed more like an average crowd for a larger city, but the amount of people who were avid Phantogram fans in the crowd really put me off guard. Apparently it was a sold out show, something I didn’t even realize until turning around halfway through the show.
The audience was pretty varied, but it was a more laid back vibe than most of the high-profile concerts I’ve been to at Sunshine Theater. It also happened to land on a Saturday night, and marked one of the first concerts I remember not worrying about getting up early the day after. With that carefree mindset and calm state of being everyone seemed to be in, TEEN, the opening, all female band, popped on stage. The front woman had good charisma and punched through a short, 30 something minute set, and set the crowd loose for the main act; people started dancing and serenely bobbing their heads up and down. Nothing particularly stood out about their music, but it was well played and fit well for an opener.
The next twenty minutes of waiting for Phantogram just built up my anticipation, as automated lights were tested, shifting around and even bouncing off of mirrors they’d placed on the floor. The band didn’t take too long to come out, and when they did, they made it flashy. I rarely go to concerts anymore that really put on a theatrical show beyond the music (save Muse, which obviously was overblown in all the right ways), though this was one of them. They cruised through a melodic intro and right into “Nothing But Trouble”, and, miraculously, you could hear nearly everything in the mix. The volumes weren’t overblown, and it added to the show that most of the music was being played live by live instruments, though they had their backing share of electronics.
I wasn’t too familiar with all of the songs, but the hooks were easy enough to catch onto by the end of each song. But by the time they reached “Blackout Days”, I was giving it my all shouting along, just as nearly everyone around me was as well. Sarah kept flipping her hair and jamming on a keyboard, and co-songwriter Josh Carter was just as energetic and playful. The two had a clear partnership that made them seem just like normal, everyday people doing what they love, despite their fame and flashing lights surrounding them. At some point a strobe light went on, and when “Don’t Move” started I couldn’t help hopping up and down like a little excited kid.
The most memorable highlight of the night, however, was when they turned things down a notch for the Voices highlight “Bill Murray”. It’s already a gorgeous slow burning ballad, but the chorus came around and a disco ball above the audience started spinning, casting blue patterns in circles around the building. I don’t use it lightly, but that’s one of those rare moments I could only describe as blissful. After that, I didn’t think anything could go upward, but they closely did it with sample filled “Howling At The Moon”, and on the encore with “Mouthful Of Diamonds”. Of course “Fall In Love” was somewhere in between all of that, and just being able to so crisply hear a band’s biggest hit is a remarkable thing- so all in all, it was an unexpectedly relaxing and ecstatic show. Voices is out now via Republic Records, and it’s an early contender for most underrated album of the year.