Phantogram - The Observatory - October 21, 2013
Phantogram's Sarah Barthel wasn't exaggerating when she told the packed Observatory that the band hadn't played in Orange County for awhile. In fact, last night was the duo's first headlining show in our fair county. The last time they played was to support The Antler's at Detroit Bar in 2010. And judging by the amount of people who showed up, it was definitely a success.
So much has changed for the New York-based two-piece of Barthel and Josh Carter since the last time they performed in OC. Most obviously, their fan base has grown (drastically), but they also have two more EPs under their belts and now tour with a drummer and guitarist/keyboardist/sampler. As a quartet, Barthel can focus more on her vocals and less on playing keys, and naturally, the addition of live drums gives the songs a much fuller sound. Phantogram was good live in the past; now they're great.
In a little over an hour, the hip-hop-tinged electronic outfit tore through 16 tracks, mixing the set list up with selections off their debut 2009 full-length, Eyelid Movies, 2010's Nightlife EP, and treated fans to each of the four songs that comprise their latest effort, a self-titled EP. And though Phantogram was released a mere three weeks ago, the majority of the crowd could sing along to every song, especially its first single, "Blacked Out Days."
But the real crowd pleasers were the band's earlier work. When Carter received his first chance on the microphone with "Running From The Cops," the crowd cheered him on. He fed off this energy by releasing the mic from its stand and stuttering across the stage, singing vigorously and hammering his guitar strings. "We're gonna make you sweat" Barthel promised before delving into "As Far As I Can See," and heeded her own warning by peeling off a tasseled leather jacket to reveal a scandalous black bralette underneath. She took notes from Carter's turn at the mic and discarded her stand so she could run around freely, standing as close to her fans as the stage permitted on either of its sides and inciting shrieks from the crowd.
Aside from the songs off Phantogram, the duo also teased their fans with tracks off a forthcoming sophomore full-length. "This is another new song that we're technically not supposed to play yet," Barthel explained. "But it's too fucking good not to." They broke into a hard-hitting dance track called "Howling At The Moon," and she was right: it was really fucking good. But the highlight of the show was the last song before encore: "When I'm Small." During the song's bridge, Barthel climbed onto the stage's ridge and rose up to her fans as she admitted, "I'd rather die than be without you," in her angelic voice. A sea of cell phones sprang into the air to capture the bone-chilling moment and reiterate that Phantogram needs to play in Orange County more often.
Critical Bias: Phantogram's music is powerful recorded, but live it's on another level.
The Crowd: Is it possible to oversell a show? Because The Observatory seemed like it was over capacity.
Overheard In The Crowd: "I fucking love that chick." (In regards to Sarah.)
Random Notebook Dump: Phantogram's upcoming full-length is going to kick ass.