Phantogram at First Avenue, 10/26/11


October 26, 2011
First Avenue

The fact that Phantogram managed to fill First Avenue on Wednesday night was a bit surprising, but that warm reception from the Minneapolis music scene was entirely deserved for the charming New York band. And while their ethereal, magnetic songs might not have managed to captivate absolutely everyone in the packed club, those of us that managed to give ourselves up entirely to Phantogram's stirring sounds (while ignoring the commotion and chatter of the full nightclub) were transported somewhere truly special during their enthralling 80-minute set.

Although the fiery duo of Sarah Barthel (keyboards/vocals) and Josh Carter (guitar/vocals/effects) have added a drummer (Tim Oakley) to their live band since the last time I saw them at the Varsity, they have sacrificed none of their ardent chemistry or the moody atmospherics that made their music so indelible. In fact, the live drummer really fleshes out their fervid live sound, giving it an added texture and pulse that makes the songs even more expressive and rich.

Phantogram are celebrating the imminent release of Nightlife, a new, six-song EP which is due out on Tuesday, and their 17-song set featured most of those songs as well as everything from their debut full-length, Eyelid Movies, giving their fans everything they were hoping to hear and more during their rousing performance. Barthel was a bit more reserved in this performance than she has been in the past, focusing more intently on the music and the mood she was creating rather than dancing around the stage. That added sense of resolve gave the songs a dark, polished electronic edge that was only augmented by Carter's subtly hypnotic guitar work, crafting a massive wall of sound that was easy to get lost in.

The well-paced set opened with the pulsing B-side "Voices," and took off from there, only letting up occasionally to let the audience and the band catch their collective breath. The new tracks blended seamlessly in with Phantogram's older material, as the bouncy seduction of "Don't Move" and the swelling spirit of "Turning Into Stone" sounded stellar mixed in with the rhythmic insistence of "Running From The Cops" and the soaring grandeur of "Mouthful Of Diamonds." Barthel and Carter smoothly traded off vocal duties throughout the set, but other than a couple heartfelt words of thanks to the large crowd, they stuck to their music and didn't engage too much with the audience.

Phantogram at First Avenue, 10/26/11

​The sound was stellar throughout the performance, but I do think Barthel and Carter's vocals occasionally were washed out by the massive sound they were generating. And unfortunately, when the band did decide to slow things down, especially on the doleful, keyboard-laden "10,000 Claps," the din of the club won out as portions of the audience prattled on incessantly. But that's what happens when you lose the intimacy of a small room, and Phantogram's sound (and appeal, evidently) is simply too big for those venues now.

But if you were able to ignore the ill-mannered portion of the audience and be swallowed up by the dense, textured sound Phantogram were crafting, the show was truly exceptional. Their older songs took on an added depth and elegance, as the urgent cadence of "You Are The Ocean" and the glorious main-set closer "When I'm Small" both bristled with the cocksure confidence of a band that truly owned their material as well as the stage. And their atmospheric two-song encore was simply breathtaking, as an emotional rendering of "Nightlife" sublimely filled the room.

Barthel went so far as to say, midway through their set, how nice it was to be in Minneapolis again, and that "this is our favorite city to play." And while that line is certainly nice to hear, I'm sure she says that a lot during their tour. But, if fans keep on showing up in these type of numbers, and the band continues to deliver these type of riveting, rousing performances, that statement just might end up being true enough after all.

Phantogram at First Avenue, 10/26/11

Critic's Bias: I was truly won over by Phantogram when they opened for the Antlers at the Varsity in April of last year, but the band has only gotten better since then.

The Crowd: A surprisingly large turnout for a band that is still building a buzz, as well as a shocking amount of drunk, rude concert-goers that were obviously still figuring out how to behave at First Ave.

Overheard In The Crowd: "I love everything about her look. I'm dressing like that to work tomorrow."

Random Notebook Dump: Nightlife is an exceptional EP, everyone should seriously pick up a copy on Tuesday. But I hope we don't have to wait too long for a proper follow-up to Eyelid Movies.

For more photos: See our full slideshow by Erik Hess.

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