From the moment Phantogram stepped onstage at Terminal 5, New York City was theirs. This all came much to the surprise of lead singer Sarah Barthel: “New York… holy shit,” she laughed into the mic as the energy hit a breaking point. But the anticipation had been building longer than the daily malaise of a Wednesday; it’s been slowly bubbling since the band debuted. Just before Barthel’s stunned reaction, the strobes erupted along with a cataclysmic bass drop. The electricity in the room made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, and at that precise moment, time stood on the balance of Barthel’s falsetto. Phantogram, by way of rural upstate New York, had officially arrived.
Phantogram Break Out on the Stage of Terminal 5
Common descriptors for Phantogram’s sound are “big,” “anthemic,” “rousing” (you get the idea), but words simply don’t do it justice. As I write this sentence, my ears are still ringing with the remnants of their sheer power. Quite simply, they sound massive live, and the backing band of drums and bass only adds to the foundation that Barthel and beat-maker Josh Carter built.
The lights placed around the stage completely filled the cavernous warehouse of Terminal 5, as Sarah Barthel danced between the slathered brushstrokes of color. Her head bobbed to the deep bass, and her gleaming dark hair waved mesmerizingly out of focus in between delicate coos… wait, what was I talking about again? Sorry. It was hard to take your eyes off her. Barthel demanded attention with natural stage presence, while multi-instrumentalist Carter lurked in the shadows, concocting rumbling waves of sound. Despite humble beginnings, the band looked completely comfortable in the limelight.
“I remember when we used to play New York. We played Union Hall one time, and everyone in the audience was pretty much just one of our friends.” – Sarah Barthel, Phantogram
Barthel seemed genuinely humbled by the response. Selling out Terminal 5 on a Wednesday is no easy feat, and the venue, even with its quirks, tends to be a good barometer for success. For those that have followed the band for a while now, this really comes as no surprise. The potential in their early recordings was palpable, particularly with tracks like “Mouthful of Diamonds” (which provided an otherworldly atmosphere in the encore), and “Turning Into Stone.” Now, it seems people are finally starting to notice.
Distinguished rapper Big Boi even recruited them for production work on his album this year. It appears people are trying to recapture the “Phantogram sound”—a unique mix of electronic, hip-hop, and indie rock. Josh Carter deserves a lot of credit for his growth as a promising producer. He even added vocals on the trippy cut “Running With The Cops.”
Phantogram played a healthy mix of old and new material, along with a standout from the recent EP called “Celebrating Nothing,” and a preview of music from their upcoming full-length, Voices. One in particular was “Fall in Love,” which they played live for the first time ever. This tune saw Carter take on a drum machine and create a garage-sounding song, providing a peek into their next musical progression.
Though Phantogram’s catalog is still on the light side (a few EPs and one album), they played an impressive setlist of songs that have been crawling through the minds of fans for months, years even. As the familiar samples of “Don’t Move” rattled the chest cavities of the dancing crowd, that same aforementioned electricity filled the room.
Phantogram’s career path can be compared to their music—it began with a steady beat, but as more layers were added, the anticipation grew. By my count, we’ve reached the point in the song where Barthel’s voice dissolves into airy reverb; it’s now the moment right before the bass drop, where everything stands perfectly still. As you pause to watch her push the hair from her face and purse her lips to the mic, you know something big is about to happen. Phantogram is about to break out.
Article by Nicolas White