Concert Reviews

Live Review: Phantogram at New York’s Terminal 5 (6/16)

on June 17, 2014, 9:39am

We humans love categorizing. Everything needs its name/type/place. Music is no exception. So bands like Phantogram have a bit of a problem. Actually, it isn’t their problem; it’s ours. What do we call their style? Trip-hop? Shoegaze? Electronica? Synthpop? In the past, the outfit themselves have described their sound as “street beat/psych pop.” Ultimately, does the name really matter? Not to the sold-out crowd last night at New York’s Terminal 5.

The upstate New York duo of Sarah Barthel (vocals/synth) and Josh Carter (vocals/guitar) were joined on stage by an additional drummer and keyboardist to fill out the live sound. Multi-colored strobes and lights flashed in the background, bringing life to Barthel’s sequined robe by turning her into some sort of human disco ball. All of this was (and is) very fitting for the band; after all, the name “Phantogram” is taken from a type of optical illusion, so clearly visuals are not an afterthought for this group.

Phantogram in Concert NYC

Neither is their onstage performance. The group has visibly worked hard on reproducing their sounds for the live setting. Tempos have been changed, live guitar parts reworked, and Barthel’s extraterrestrial voice punches harder to break through the bass-heavy beats. Trapped behind her keyboard and microphone, Barthel has since mastered the hair-as-prop technique that keeps her an animated presence, especially amidst the crowd-sourcing Carter, who tears it up with an optimism that few synth bands can pull off. It helps that Barthel and Carter have great chemistry together.

The two ran through most of their latest album, Voices, as well as songs from their previous LP and EPs. Given that they spent nearly five years between proper albums — working through two EPs in the interim — there’s a varied, sophisticated bridge (at least musically) between the old and new. Still, the new material proved successful with the rabid fans, especially the elegant ballad “Bill Murray” and the thumping hit “Fall in Love”.

Phantogram in Concert NYC

Live music often transcends the artificial categories that we feel compelled to assign bands. Instead, there’s an energy that transforms its audience by night’s end, shattering any musical predilections they might have brought to the venue. With regards to Phantogram’s set, things rocked, things rolled, people grooved, and electronica filled the air. Call it synthpop, agree to the “street beat/psych pop” label, or just shut up and dance.

Setlist:
Intro Faces Cry
Nothing But Trouble
Running From the Cops
As Far as I Can See
Black Out Days
Turning Into Stone
Bad Dreams
Don’t Move
The Day You Died
Bill Murray
I Don’t Blame You
Fall in Love
Howling at the Moon
When I’m Small
Encore:
Mouthful of Diamonds
Celebrating Nothing

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