Phantogram adds dimension to Canopy Club performance
A phantogram is an optical illusion, where two-dimensional images are perceived to be three-dimensional. It is also the very appropriate name for the electro-rock, dream-pop musical duo of Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel.
The below-freezing temperatures and snowy streets could not deter fans from coming out and packing The Canopy Club on Tuesday night. Little to nothing, in fact, could persuade fans of Phantogram, to miss their highly anticipated show.
For fans Hannah Anderson, junior at Illinois Central College, and Katie Alvarez, junior at Cornell University, not even distance could keep them apart from their beloved band. The two first heard of Phantogram after seeing them perform at the Chicago-based music festival, Lollapalooza.
“The atmosphere was really great, we were jamming,” said Anderson. “I heard about the concert here by word of mouth, two of my friends told me about it.”
Once the girls learned that the New York-based musical duo would be coming to Urbana, they immediately decided to attend. Alvarez described how, while she doesn’t know as much about the band as other fans might, she enjoyed their distinct genre of music and “definitely wanted to come to the concert.”
And this was not a concert to miss.
The show was opened by The Veldt, a quartet from North Carolina with a style that combines indie, soul, folk, trance and ambient genres surprisingly well. Reminiscent of the ’90s space rock band, Spiritualized, the band capitalizes on the talents of each member.
The drum beats were remarkably similar to that of a human heartbeat, keeping the listener grounded as the airy, spacey aspects of the other instruments tried to pull the fans up and away. The highlight of their set was the performance of lead vocalist Daniel Chavis, who found a way to simultaneously incorporate uplifting and melancholic notes into his voice.
For The Veldt, there was no truly catchy rhythm, just a constant intermingling of different sounds. While the opener was stunning, it was child’s play compared to the main act.
Inspired by performers such as David Bowie, Sonic Youth and the Cocteau Twins, Phantogram specializes in complex rhythms, ethereal keyboards and airy vocals. As soon as Carter, the main guitarist, and Barthel, the main keyboardist, entered the stage, the already electric show was amplified.
As the two stepped on stage, the screams of the crowd only lasted for a brief moment before they blasted into their opener, “You’re Mine” from the band’s most recent album “Three.” The fans’ cheers were quickly drowned out by the song’s fast, reverberating beat synced to white strobe lights; but, when Carter and Barthel strutted onto the stage, both wearing monochromatic black outfits, the screams overpowered the music once more.
Without so much as skipping a beat, Carter lead the audience into the next song, “Same Old Blues,” encouraging the fans to clap to the beat. In a similar fashion, they dived into the next two songs, which, while exciting, made the show seem a little rushed.
After the fourth song of the night, “Don’t Move,” Barthel stopped to ask the crowd how to pronounce “Urbana.” As the fans shouted the name of their town, Phantogram dived into the following song, creating an odd but energizing atmosphere.
Where the band lacked in timing, they made up in showmanship. Barthel, with a classic blonde rocker bob, was dressed in a leather jacket, giving off a strong “manic pixie dream girl” vibe. Either due to static or a draft, her hair would occasionally stand on end, which coincidentally accentuated her aesthetic. Carter’s solid, bold look contrasted her ethereal impression, effectively mimicking the band’s balance between dream pop and electro-rock.
As for the music itself, the duo clearly knew how to play off of each other. Where one would go off on a solo on their respective instrument, the other would take over the main vocals. The switches between the two as the focal performer kept the fans on their toes. When the pair would combine to sing together, the echoes of Barthel’s voice usually did take precedence, but were always nicely grounded by Carter’s smooth croons.
Phantogram’s strongest aspect was their versatility. Most songs were loud and upbeat, but within each one, the band had no trouble controlling the atmosphere. Within a beat, they would quiet the song for a verse and then slowly pick up the pace once more. Slower songs, like the ballad “Answer” and their first encore song “Barking Dog” were refreshing breaks to bops like “When I’m Small” and “Mouthful of Diamonds.”
Each song sounded completely different, but the duo was able to maintain their unique style throughout the set. The signature aspects of their music — swirling guitars, spacey keyboards and airy vocals — kept the variety of songs true to the band.
Max Giannetta, a graduate student at the University, is no amateur to Phantogram concerts. He became hooked on their music after his former roommate introduced him to the band. After hearing one of their songs for the first time, he instantly bought tickets for their performance at the music festival, Sasquatch, in Washington.
“They go so hard,” Giannetta said of the band at concerts. “It’s maybe too loud sometimes, like, my eardrums ring afterwards,” he added, laughing, “but they put a lot of energy back into the crowd.”