First Avenue, Minneapolis
April 13, 2014
Phantogram's textured synth-rock's power has grown steadily over the years. And they have never sounded -- and looked -- as massive as they did last night at a sold-out First Avenue. Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter (along with Chris Carhart on drums and Nick Shelestak on guitar/synths/samples) delivered an enthralling 85-minute performance in support of their new record, Voices, augmented with a stylish light show.
The stage was shrouded in smoke and bright strobe lights as the band took the stage, easing their way into the choppy pulse of "Intro." The song flowed fluidly into Voices lead-off track, "Nothing But Trouble," and the crowd danced in time with the track's menacing rhythms. Carter took over lead vocals on an untamed Madchester version of "Running From the Cops." The rave-like vibe carried over into "As Far As I Can See," as sunbursts of strobe lights added to the enormous, disorienting beats.
"Minneapolis! How's everybody doing," Barthel asked exuberantly. "This is one of our favorite paces to play in the United States. Let's have some fucking fun!" Smash hit single, "Black Out Days," found her serving as a diabolic cheerleader while getting the crowd to swing their hands in the air. Carter again took over on "Turning Into Stone," as tranquil blue lights added to its raw sentiments.
"Bad Dreams" was sexy as hell. "You're making me sweat," Barthel teased coquettishly, before warming up the room even further with a dynamic run through of "Don't Move." Things slowed down a bit with the poignant combination of "The Day You Died," and "Bill Murray," with Barthel telling us that the latter song warrants the old arena-rock tradition of holding your lighters in the air and "Kurt Cobain forever!"
"I Don't Blame You" was the only part of the tight set that failed to resonate. But the band quickly righted things with a passionate version of "Fall In Love." The room was suitably bathed in lascivious red lights as Sarah strutted on the front of the stage, clearly holding the room in her hand at this point, and added, "Thank you, Josh, for making such a fucking dope beat."
"Howling at the Moon" kept the set on full boil, with the choppy, textured arrangements building in potency as the song swelled along with Barthel's rich vocals. The band closed out the main set with a sultry version of "When I'm Small." The dramatic tension of the song was heightened even further as a bright halo of light hung over Sarah before the track built to an untethered breakdown.
The band left briefly, but the loud ovation only built in fervor, causing Barthel to back away from the microphone a bit sheepishly, caught a bit off-guard by the crowd's overwhelming support. "You guys, this is really our favorite city to play in. It has been for years and years and years. Ever since we first played the 7th Street."
After "Mouthful of Diamonds," the evening came to a fitting end with "Celebrating Nothing," which found Barthel singing the sobering lines, "We're gonna die," as the song built to a cacophonous explosion of sound, lyrics which stood in stark contrast to the feelings of euphoria generated by the show itself. Those lines of warning certainly prove true, however -- We are all going to die. But thankfully, we got to experience last night first.
Personal Bias: I've been firmly under Phantogram's spell since their '10 Entry show. But this is the best performance I've ever seen from them.
The Crowd: A true sold-out crowd, but everyone was there to enjoy the show and end their weekend on a high note.
Overheard In The Crowd: "I'm quite impressed with Sarah's midriff."
Random Notebook Dump: My only notes about "Bad Dreams" -- "Sexy as fuck." That sounds about right.
Nothing But Trouble
Running From The Cops
As Far As I Can See
Black Out Days
Turning Into Stone
The Day You Died
I Don't Blame You
Fall In Love
Howling At The Moon
When I'm Small
Mouthful Of Diamonds
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