Since Phantogram released their debut album Eyelid Stories in 2009, the duo comprised of Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter have evolved into bonafide electronic icons that fully embody the term “artist.” What once started as simply a two-piece touring in a car, has grown into a full-fledged four-man band bolstered with extraordinary visuals and beats. Now backed by keyboardist/guitarist Nicholas Shelestak and drummer Chris Carhart, Phantogram is three albums deep (not including a collab with Big Boi from OutKast under the moniker Big Grams) with a whole lot to show off, including a revamped live show.
Unlike their previous stop in Charlotte, nine months prior (October 2016), Phantogram is all eyes and ears from the get-go. The slow thumping build-up of “You’re Mine” signals the start of Phantogram’s impressive 75-minute set. The backing musicians climb atop a towering two-piece, elevated stage set that’s perched above the audience, while Barthel and Carter casually saunter onto stage amidst a rousing applause.
The thumping begins to grow louder as the frontwoman sets down her red solo cup and grips the microphone. “You don’t talk to no one, don’t you look at nothin’,” Barthel rings out. It’s the opening line to “You’re Mine,” one of Three‘s poppier tracks.
Photos by Jared Allen
While songs from Three litter the set list, no two are alike and that’s what makes Phantogram such unique artist in today’s music scene. The duo never gets too comfy (as shown by their willingness to alter a live show that sold out The Fillmore Charlotte in October). What begins with an upbeat, pop-infused vibe, quickly transitions to something gospel-driven with “Same Old Blues,” with the simple flick of the guitar pedal.
Phantogram is dynamic and all while they’re mesmerizing the crowd with their vocals, bright white strobes flash and pierce the crowd, casting dramatic silhouettes on the entertainers. The band weave through a deep discography and delve into their 2011 EP Nightlife. The introduction receives plenty of “woos,” but not nearly as many when Phantogram announce “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore.” Best friends Barthel and Carter share the stage and spotlight, just as you’d imagine. The two occasionally gaze at each other, admiring the opposite – Barthel’s soaring vocals and Carter’s hip musicianship.
There’s plenty of songs throughout the set that showcase Phantogram’s best, but none better than “Destroyer.” Barthel disappears for a moment, only to reemerge atop the elaborate stage setup. Barthel told the story of her sister’s suicide and urged the crowd it’s okay not be okay. She announced that a portion of the tour’s ticket sales will be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and segued into the track. LED flames engulfed Barthel as she took the audience on a magical ride with her vocals, further highlighting the craftsmanship behind the details in Phantogram’s live show. It was inspiring and stunning, two feelings that also sum up the rest of the band’s outing in Charlotte.
The band elicited a wide range of emotions and captured an energy in a way that few in their genre do. They pushed the boundaries in every aspect of the show and gave Charlotte a reason to look forward to their next stop (hopefully nine months away).