Phantogram Crescent Ballroom Wednesday, October 23, 2013
New York trip hop group Phantogram played its third show in Phoenix last night. The band put on a fantastic show almost two full years ago at Crescent Ballroom, leaving us to wonder if lightning could strike twice, but the band's popularity has definitely grown in the meantime--to the tune of the show selling out well ahead of time and resellers asking asinine prices upwards of $200.
It crossed my mind that the show may have been better suited for a larger venue at this point, but part of the magic ended up being the intimate setting. A sold-out show put 500 plus people at close proximity to core duo Sarah Barthel (vocals and synth) and Josh Carter (vocals and guitar), who were accompanied by a live drummer and second guitarist. The additional members added depth to the songs and gave the duo room to experiment and focus on important parts of the song.
Barthel in particular was interesting to watch. Her cool outfit and crowd interactions instantly stood out, but vocals is where she really shined. She used a sampler to loop some tones, such as the haunting "oohs" in "When I'm Small." A similar effect was employed at the beginning of "Turn it Off," kicking the song off with looped ac apella vocals that added a new layer to the song.
Phantogram's sound was spot on last night. Most of the Eyelid Movies songs were good for dancing, particularly "Mouthful of Diamonds" and "When I'm Small." It seems like the slow songs could be hit or miss, but these tracks also sounded great thanks to filling out the sound with a live band.
The band performed all four songs from its new self-titled EP, which was released a couple of weeks ago. Fans have already taken a liking to it, as evidenced by the response to "Black Out Days," which was embraced with the same enthusiasm as some of Eyelid Movies selections.
In spite of the newness, Phantogram's set never seemed boring, thanks to its light show. The intro was particularly well done, as strobes made it look like the band was disappearing between beats. The venue's disco ball was occasionally struck with colored light, filling the entire room with an explosion of light.
"We're technically not supposed to play this," Barthel said, introducing a song called "Howl at the Moon" that will be on the band's forthcoming full-length album, which she said will be released later this year. The song sounds good and is a promising peak at the new album.
Phantogram's set was full of new material, which could have been a little discouraging, but the songs flowed very well. As a fan, I heard everything I wanted to hear, including a few surprises. "Turning Into Stone" is a beautiful, layered song that seems better suited for the turntable, but it was equally effective live.
As Phantogram's popularity continues to grow, I can't help but wonder if that was the band's last show at Crescent Ballroom. I would hope that a successful sophomore full length album would bring them back for another intimate and technically on point performance, but at the same time, I could only imagine what sort of production value the band would bring somewhere like Marquee Theatre, at the cost of intimacy.
Setlist: Intro 16 Years Running From the Cops Mouthful of Diamonds Black Out Days Nothing But Trouble Turning Into Stone As Far As I Can See Never Going Home Don't Move Turn It Off Howling at The Moon The Day You Died When I'm Small Celebrating Nothing Futuristic Casket
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Critic's Notebook: Last Night: Phantogram at Crescent Ballroom. Personal Bias: The 2011 show was one of my favorites of the year and I considered spending $60 or so to just go to the show for fun. The Crowd: 20 and 30 somethings who made goo goo eyes at Sarah Barthel. Overheard in the Crowd: An intense conversation about cold brews and ice cubes made of coffee grounds.