Friday, April 23, 2010

Phantogram - April 22, 2010

here is a reason we like to see a band twice before we like to crown them must-see. In the case of, electro-pop duo, Phantogram, seeing them a second time is essential to find out just how fresh the experience is each time out. With a video-screen display to give the set a more dynamic visual appearance, and a duo made up of a dj and a guitarist, you wonder just how unique the set can really be from one to the next. As the New York duo demonstrated Thursday night at Lincoln Hall, they keep things plenty fresh each outing.

The duo were an energetic, engaging success at Schubas a few months back, but they seem to have evolved even further as a live act since then. A larger screen and new videos to accompany the songs were fantastic, but the biggest changes were in regards to the sound. The duo, Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter, incorporated looping vocals into the songs, allowing them to remix their songs on the fly. It gave the mysterious thump and flickering guitar of "Running From The Cops" a more playful twist. Between the aquatic imagery and thick on-stage fog, the tranquil, Roxy Music-esque "You Are The Ocean" was a definite highlight of the set, showcasing both Carter's unique charm as a vocalist and the duo's great harmonies as Barthel twisted and danced to the beat.

Barthel sang "This Is The Future", heavy on her looping, sampled vocals, over a twitchy beat and thick bass line. The new track feels like it could use a little work, especially to iron out the cluttered prog-rock feeling moments that feel out of place. Barthel seemed a little more involved in the vocals of the bass-heavy "Turn It Off", making it feel more like a duet than the Carter-led version on the album. The set ended with the hauntingly sexy "When I'm Small", with Barthel belting out vocals with a brasher, more passionate edge that displayed just how great her voice is, and left you wishing she used that side of her voice a little more often. They actually got a decent amount of the sold-out crowd dancing for the club-ready jam; a massive accomplishment in Chicago. Phantogram's willingness to tinker with their already infectious songs makes them a band not to miss.

The party unfortunately stopped when The Antlers hit the stage. The Brooklyn-based trio opened with the slow burning falsetto of "Kettering". It showed off the pipes of front-man Peter Silberman, and the gradual climb to the song's eventual fiery explosion was great. The dramatically sparse verses and overwhelming, epic flush of sound of the chorus on "Sylvia" again showed off Silberman's fantastic vocal range. If it were only the near theatrical vocals or their knack for stretching out the last moments of a song for several minutes each, they may have been more effective. Instead, it made everything feel heavy and overly self-important; which is quite the opposite of the feeling you get from them on album. The intense drama of every song made The Antlers a bit of an exhausting downer following on the heels of the energetic duo that opened. In the end, it felt like the sets should have been flipped. Half an hour of the somber, dramatic rock from The Antlers is plenty, but you can always go for more Phantogram.

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