Phantogram w/ EXITMUSIC @ Royale 11.19.11

by Suzie Conway (Communications), published November 22nd 2011

photos by Leslie Fowle (Journalism)

The leaves have fallen and autumn is settling into our bones. The perfect accompaniment to that chill in the air is the unique electro-rock stylings of Phantogram. Full of seductive beats and soothing vocals, they’re a middle ground to beckon the forthcoming frigid Boston winter.  The duo, comprised of Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter (with Tim Oakley on drums during shows) are touring in support of their new EP Nightlife.

First out was EXITMUSIC, a moody rock duo (with touring back up players). Aleksa Palladino and Devon Church are the married musicians comprising this outfit. Palladino is certainly the more magnetic of the two—she did her best Karen O impression and made some pretty impressive howls at the spotlights. What was pretty striking about the band after listening to their releases post-concert was how much they gave to the performance. They lacked a certain stage presence, but their live performance musically seemed more impassioned and intense. Their dark tone coupled with sweet handholds between husband and wife made for cool and conflicting mood, and a nice precursor to Phantogram.

Phantogram took to the stage timidly, quietly setting up amid a flurry of cheers and catcalls from the audience. It wasn’t long until they broke out into a string of songs from their first full-length album, Eyelid Movies. Barthel broke out her cool screaming vocals and trademark dance at her keyboard. What can only be described as neck jerking, her moves are oddly reminiscent of a bobble head doll that’s slightly off its hinge, as seen in their video for “When I’m Small.” Nevertheless, she and Carter got into a groove quickly and smoothly sailed from one track to the next.

They didn’t start off with their first big hit “Mouthful of Diamonds,” instead waiting until three songs in to play it. Interestingly enough, the crowd didn’t bemoan Phantogram playing other lesser-known songs. Rather, I was surprised to see that there quite a few fan boys and girls in the audience who seemed to know their entire discography front to back. That isn’t to say the hits didn’t get the biggest fan response. Barthel announced they’d be playing songs off Nightlife and ripped the roof off of Royale with their performance of their new single “Don’t Move.” But it was one of the few songs to do so successfully.

Both Barthel and Carter’s vocals seemed to be drowned out by the synth-laden tracks, at least from standing at the front of the stage. And it was a shame to miss out on Carter’s vocal contributions, which seemed much greater in this live setting than what I gathered from their recordings. But a quick shimmy to the back of the venue proved to be a decent remedy for the acoustic problems. Closing out with their biggest hit “When I’m Small,” the room pulsated, but without losing the integrity of the vocals.

What was mainly lacking here was any deviation from their albums. Songs weren’t improvised, no covers were performed—in other words it was entirely what I expected. While it was lovely to hear them play in a live setting, I could have arguably had a similar experience listening to the album on my own. Still, I couldn’t help but revel in the irony of getting elbowed in the side about a dozen times during “Don’t Move.” A solid show from solid performers, you get what you pay for with Phantogram, and that’s definitely not a bad thing.

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