The Antlers and Phantogram transfix the Varsity



Two New York bands with wildly contrasting but no less affecting sounds came through the Varsity Theater last evening, as both the Antlers and Phantogram delivered stirring sets packed with passion and originality. While Phantogram had a looped-beat driven, vibrant style that was in stark contrast to the austere sincerity of the Antlers music, both bands used modern effects to enhance and amplify their divergent sounds, which, after the night was over, complemented each other much more than I thought they would going into the performance.

The dashing two-piece Phantogram opened the show, playing a tight, spirited 45-minute set that was nicely paced and artfully augmented by a screen filled with images of cityscapes, decay and abandoned typewriters, which only added to the clandestine mood of their music. Drawing mostly from their excellent new album Eyelid Movies, the band, featuring Sarah Barthel on keyboards and Josh Carter on guitar/effects, put on a brisk, well-received show that proved that music, even if it is quite minimalist in scope, can still be interesting and inventive, it's just up to the musicians to bring something new to the scene.

And Barthel and Carter are clearly onto something original and enthralling with their sound, trading off vocal duties smoothly and allowing songs like the stellar "Mouthful Of Diamonds," "Running From The Cops," and "Turn It Off" to soar in the small room with an even bolder tone in the live setting. The duo also played a simmering new song during the set, "Make A Fist," but it was the electrifying closer "When I'm Small" that got the largest ovation of the night, and for good reason, as the song is absolutely killer, and indeed slayed live. Phantogram's music is full of atmosphere and ambiance, and when combined with two inventive musicians and the travel-laden images on the screen behind them, it becomes transportive, taking the audience somewhere else during the short but splendid performance.

Brooklyn three-piece the Antlers closed the night strongly during their first ever Minneapolis performance, delivering a 75-minute set wrought with emotion and intensity. Their hushed charm took a bit of getting used to after Phantogram's booming set, but frontman Peter Silberman slowly won over the room with his plaintive, Jeff Buckley-esque vocals and sincere, revealing songs. Drawing mostly from last year's phenomenal Hospice, the band gave these fragile, touching songs an added edge during their performance, often expanding on the codas and roughing up the melodies a bit to take away (or release) some of the pain found at the heart of these songs. Starting with the serene beauty of "Kettering," the band eased their way into the performance before delivering a stunning version of "Sylvia" that was a clear highlight of their set.

The band was intently focused on their sound throughout the performance, just muttering a few heartfelt thank-yous to the crowd, preferring to let their highly-emotive songs do the talking for them. And what remarkable songs they were, with "Bear" and "Atrophy" both ascending effortlessly on this night. The band played one new track during their stirring set, "Blue," while also playing nearly the entirety of <i>Hospice</i>, bringing the audience with them on the heartbreaking journey that is threaded throughout the record. And under less capable hands, the somber subject matter wouldn't go over well in a live setting, but the Antlers bring a potency to their music that transcends the tragedy found within the lyrics. Their two-song encore was impressive, with a brilliantly reworked cover of the xx's "VCR" a nice surprise, as well as natural set closer "Epilogue," which the band turned into a fiery send off that was stunning and deeply moving. 

While on paper it might not appear that the differing styles of Phantogram and the Antlers would mesh well, but both bands delivered terrific sets that showed off their inspired, innovative talents, and served notice that we will be hearing more from both of these accomplished, but still developing, groups in the future.