Imagine relaxing in an Eno hammock under soft tree cover with a breeze that occasionally whips past carrying the sweet-smelling scent of local food trucks. There’s a slice of hot pizza resting on your lap and a Highland Brewing IPA in your right hand. Out of the corner of your eye, 20 yards away, electro-pop duo Phantogram is howling their sweet psychedelic pop to the bright moon overhead. Sounds like a dream? It’s not. At The Meadow at Highland Brewing Company in Asheville, this is reality.
Phantogram, comprised of longtime friends Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter. The duo is badass. On one hand there’s Barthel – an undeniably talented, self-taught, angelic vocalist that dances and bounces around stage from keyboard to mic stand to guitar in a crop top and heels, all while her matching black gown twirls in the wind. On the other hand there’s Carter – dressed simply in a black Phantogram t-shirt and matching snapback, with the band’s insignia on the front. He possesses an equal amount of talent but flaunts it in other ways. Between shredding on the guitar, offering his own celestial vocals and leading the band with his famous beats, he’s laid back at all times with a half-smoked cigarette between his fingers. There’s something iconic about Phantogram.
Blinding white lights beamed into the crowd as the band opened with “You’re Mine” and “Same Old Blues.” The high-level production immediately enhanced the performance – raising excitement and further creating this fairytale atmosphere. Phantogram’s vibe is unique. At one moment, the show begins to feel like an amplified house, pulsing with dance-worthy tunes. With tracks such as “Black Out Days,” “Run Run Blood,” “Turning Into Stone” and “Don’t Move” – the center of the near sold out crowd couldn’t help BUT move while the outskirts head banged in unison with the futuristic beat.
Photos by Jared Allen
Yet, two songs later the mood changes with Barthel’s far-reaching and heartfelt words.
“We’re donating a dollar of every ticket tonight to suicide awareness,” Barthel voiced as she began to tear up. “I’m not really sure if you guys know this, but I lost my sister, who was also Josh’s best friend since childhood, to suicide. It’s okay to tell somebody you’re not okay, and ask people if they’re okay because it could save somebody’s life”
The words prefaced “Destroyer,” an emotional track that Barthel admitted was the hardest song to write on the band’s album, Three.
I tried, I tried to save so many lives, I guess my heart got carried away, I guess the dark turned off the light
While the short sentiment decreased the crowd’s energy levels initially, as many fans use concerts as a way to escape from reality, Barthel’s statement set the stage for easily the most memorable moment of the night. While Carter stood off to the side controlling the melody with his guitar, Barthel stood front and center and passionately crooned “Destroyer” in front of fiery LCD screens. The emotions tugged on the heart-strings as the vocalist’s voice fluttered in and out of The Meadow. It was an important moment, especially in light of recent events in the music world.
The mood began to elevate when the band returned for a desired electric encore comprised of their most popular songs “Cruel World” and “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore.” As if capping off the magical night with such tracks wasn’t enough, Barthel’s roadie pup Leroy made an appearance – the vocalist Lion King-ed @LeroyTheGoodBoy for a final dance while a heavy hip hop beat bumped in the background.