The sold-out crowd that crammed into The Ritz Ybor
was chattering and shifting in restless excitement as we waited for Phantogram
to hit the stage this past Sunday night. The anticipation only continued to escalate when the crunk-hopping setbreak music stopped, the room plunged in darkness, and a loud-stuttering mechanized voice started repeating a barely decipherable message over the PA (“:you want – you could do: so – you want, you could do, so:”), until the electro rock outfit from upstate New York filtered onto the stage to the sound of exuberant, adoring cheers. [Text by Leilani, photos by Tracy.]
Fashion forward frontwoman/vocalist Sarah Barthel led the charge. On this night, she was clad in a snug long-sleeved shirt with gold-gleaming geometric patterns, skin-tight high-waisted slacks, open-toed heels and a litter of gleaming chains. Her co-collaborator and occasional lead singer Josh Carter kept it simple in all black – button-down, jeans, baseball cap with white Phantogram logo – and served a similarly subdued role in his playing, wringing out guitar solos, effects and textures with little showboating and making good use of the pedal boards spread out before him. Barthel, in contrast, was a frenetic bouncing-ball of effervescent energy who bopped through every number, her black shoulder-length bob flying as she sprang, dipped, hopped, skipped, kicked, thrashed over keys, and punched the air. She moved like she meant it, clearly having a blast and really feeling the music, and her infectious dancing prompted much of the room to get down, too.
The duo was joined by a few aux players (on drums and synths) that helped flesh out the live mix of heavy hip hop production and dreamy pop haze, kicking off with “Nothing But Trouble,” the first track off their sophomore LP, Voices.
Barthel’s honeyed wails carried the refrain through the venue (“Listen to me, I’m nothing but trouble, I’m losing my mind…”) as the minimal yet expertly executed light show cast a dazzlingly trippy vibe on the proceedings — a blur of strobe lights giving everything a stop-start effect amid slices of shining color (blues, reds, whites, yellows) that cut through the darkness or added another bright hue to the saturated glow that sometimes soaked the stage.
The rest of the setlist was a primarily Voices
affair — they played all but two tracks off their latest — and was generally well-received, the more beat-oriented turn they've taken making for a more dance-ready show overall. "Black Out Days" proved a particular highlight; Barthel's trademark one-two boxing punch along to the track's synchronized beats and “ay-ay-ay-ay" vocals have made it from video to stage, and many of us air-boxed right along with her. Elder material definitely got the most thundering response, however, especially those several off 2009 debut, Eyelid Movies
; the water-warped Carter-led “Running from the Cops” with its ominous chugging synth and cooing backing vocals was played second and followed by another debut cut, "As Far as I Can See." But the last few came later — "When I'm Small" closed the set and sexy obligatory favorite "Mouthful of Diamonds" showed up in the two-song encore, which closed with a noisy jammed out rendition of "Celebrating Nothing."
Bad Things played a perfectly adequate opening set. The motley assortment of instrumentalists includes professional snowboarder and skateboarder Shaun White, singer Davis LeDuke, drummer-vocalist Lena Zawaideh and former Augustana bassist Jared Palomar, who got a Warner Bros. contract, issued a self-titled debut in January, and are currently supporting it. They delivered a not-terrible style of synth rock with big percussive moments and occasional segues into grungy alt rock. Towards the set's end, LeDuke snagged a flower headband from someone up front, donned it, then jumped into the crowd and traipsed back and forth on the floor as he sang the rest of the song. All the while, White looked on and played guitar, cool and calm in his clean white button down and Ken doll haircut.
Nothing But Trouble
Running From the Cops
As Far as I Can See
Black Out Days
Turning Into Stone
The Day You Died
I Don't Blame You
Fall in Love
Howling at the Moon
When I'm Small
Mouthful of Diamonds