Phantogram Continue to Grow Bigger in Philadelphia

October 20th, 2014

Phantogram – Union Transfer – October 18, 2014

What a difference four years can make. In 2010, Phantogram played Mercury Lounge to an audience of half the venue’s capacity. The duo of beat-maker Josh Carter and vocalist Sarah Barthel showed confidence then, playing songs from their excellent debut album, Eyelid Movies, complemented by art-house films in the background, but they were still feeling through the material to create an engaging live show. On Saturday night at Union Transfer, though, Phantogram looked like a band transformed, in full possession of their talents and truly deserving of the sold-out crowd’s transfixed gaze. It was a performance to enjoy in and of itself and to admire for its passion, physicality and complete beauty.

Stunning Barthel is Phantogram’s visual and emotional center. On Saturday, she wore a black leather crop top with black short shorts to match and silver bracelets running from her wrist to her elbow. Throughout the set, Barthel moved around the stage with a microphone in hand, sighing and singing her vocal parts with an intensity that soared above the group’s full-bodied sound. Two additional musicians, a live drummer and multi-instrumentalist, created floor-shaking bass and teeth-clattering kicks. Beams of strobe light flashed onto the band and crowd. Still, Barthel’s fragile voice juxtaposed against huge electronic beats is the unique success of Phantogram’s sound. It’s what kept the audience rapt until the last electronic loops cut out.

Four years later, Phantogram are famous. Their music appears in commercials and on the Hunger Games soundtrack. Their second album, Voices, released this year, reached No. 11 on the Billboard 200. And when Phantogram played their most recent single, “Fall in Love,” next to Eyelid Movies“When I’m Small,” 1,000 people sang along to both choruses. That’s a new phenomenon, but it’s also a consummate showing of support from Philadelphians. At the show’s end, Barthel said of Phantogram’s first ever performance, which was in Philadelphia: “Ten people showed up, but they brought it.” And with a second sold-out show on Sunday, Philly brought it again—and whenever Phantogram return, a growing and increasingly connected audience will be there. —Jared Levy