Written and photographed by Nathan Mattise
I saw Phantogram scheduled Syracuse on their summer touring calendar and immediately booked the date. The next step in the natural progression of going to see this show was heavily talking them up to friends.
Now if I’m being recruited to go on someone else’s entertainment pilgrimage, I’m skeptical. I’m ready to be let down just because fans will naturally overhype what they love. Doesn’t everyone have a friend who billed Benjamin Button as last year’s best film?
I ended up taking 7 or 8 friends (with varying levels of music interest) to see the band’s set at Funk N’ Waffles this past weekend. So when I can say that the band gained at least that many fans who’ll make sure to catch them again on their next pass through CNY… it’s really saying something.
The night opened up with a local opening act called Animal Pants. For a local show at a smaller venue, Animal Pants was what you’d expect from an opening act. They were OK – played all originals, didn’t take themselves too seriously, seemed to practice fairly regularly and had good energy. They also didn’t have a sound within the same genre as the main act and, at times, left you devoting a few minutes to discussing unrelated questions to get you through the performance.
Looking back now, the lasting image from the performance for me was an entire bachelor coming out to support the band. Needless to say, Animal Pants got impressive crowd reaction.
Phantogram finally started taking the stage (setting up their own equipment even) after Animal Pants’ roughly 45-minute performance. I know my colleagues were questioning me by this point. I assured them I came for the band that was coming up next and convinced them it was time to move to the front of the stage. We sat Indian-style in front of the seats and tables to start. Phantogram plugged in and offered only a small message before starting.
“We got new deodorant, we want you to come up and smell. Or not,” said guitarist Josh Carter.
The next hour or so involved everything that turned me on to Phantogram in the first place. The music was strong. All of their songs (new ones for me included, first time I’ve seen them as a main act) featured huge beats, hypnotic guitar riffs and harmonious vocals. It left folks in the crowd bobbing their heads throughout and humming a few tunes as best they could on the way out. It also made me all the more impressed with the band’s ability to write tunes. Josh’s guitar riffs hook you and somehow he’s a drummer first by trait (explains some of the beats you can’t help but give in to). Sarah Barthel’s ability to help shape the rhythm into the dance-starters they are is astounding given her background is musical theater (probably aids her airy, sultry vocals).
The band’s stage presence is just as worthy of praise. They look the part – a great rock facial hair for Josh and what a colleague called a Karen O approach for Sarah – and their command of the space is phenomenal for a duo. Their sound and energy demand so much more than the physical area they take up. The venue itself even went from feeling like a somewhat rinky-dink garage during Animal Pants to a flat-out hip, intimate dance venue during Phantogram.
The aura the band created simply left everyone within an earshot of their sound wanting to lose all their inhibitions and to get-up and dance in the worst way possible. Like any show, sometimes it just takes someone to lose their inhibitions first before everyone fully embraces the desire to let loose. Thankfully, the bachelor party was impressed by Phantogram to the point that they stuck around and were physically unable to resist the temptation to dance.
If the show itself didn’t leave folks rooting for the band, folks brave enough to approach the duo afterwards certainly found the musicians themselves will. The band was extremely approachable and took the time to talk with fans afterwards. It wasn’t simply a “Hi, great set,” “Thanks for coming out,” exchange either. They took the time to chat to the point we discovered Sarah drew the design featured on their new t-shirt and both of them were cool enough to sign a novelty toy sword brought into the show.
After seeing the band for a second time, I know this much. It won’t be hard to recruit copilots to roadtrip to their Rochester show in July and the time is now to read up on this act and check them out yourself.
(Links today from MySpace, 20 Watts, Boston.com and Wikipedia)