Electronic rock duo Phantogram have been touring behind their highly-regarded 2009 effort Eyelid Movies almost non-stop since its release in 2009, and on October 26 they dropped by First Avenue to give Minneapolis a dose of their psychedelic pop goodness. They have made stops in the Twin Cities before—at both the Varsity and the 7th Street Entry last year—and some wondered how (and why) they seemed poised to nearly sell out the Mainroom. I’m still not sure we ever got an explanation as to the apparent rise in popularity (my bet is on their approachable-for-an-indie-band, light-rock-radio-station, “cool dad” status, but that’s just me) but pack the Mainroom they did for a show that as far as I could tell was very well-received.
The female half of Phantogram, Sarah Barthel, took the stage rocking black sequined leggings and a severe bob-with-bangs. “I love her! I want to be her best friend!” my companion (who had never heard them before) exclaimed before she even sang a word, which really speaks more to their mainstream appeal than anything else. Fashion choices aside, the band on stage resemble Crystal Castles or Sleigh Bells—a charismatic, alt-sexy woman flanked by a relatively forgettable dude, in this case guitarist Josh Carter. Though in each case the man probably carries more than his own weight in terms of the musical arrangement and output of the band, it’s the lady that really steals the show.
Unlike Crystal Castles’ Alice Glass or Sleigh Bells’ Alexis Krauss, Barthel managed to retain her composure throughout the set, putting on a much tamer performance. Tame can still be engaging, but in this case my attention lapsed from time to time. The prominence of her voice was a bit drowned out by the overpowering base, and though the overall sound was good, it just wasn’t the same as the delightful tension between trippy pop beats and the delicateness of her voice as is found on their record. The overall affect was sort of like what happens when you try to recreate your favorite restaurant entreé in your own kitchen—still good, but just not the same.
Tracks like “Bloody Palms,” one of the edgiest tunes on the record, were much less punchier than on Eyelid Movies. “Running From the Cops,” one of the few tracks to feature Carter on vocals, was as musically complex yet vocally weak. Obvious fan favorite “Mouthful of Diamonds” had an interesting Beastie Boys vibe, appropriately backdropped by the smell of weed and the chanting of fans.
Overall, Phantogram put on an entertaining show that may not have lived up to all the hype, but that certainly met mass-appeal expectations.
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