The duo of Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter have been recent mainstays in the electronica world thanks to their melding of lush vocals, hip-hop beats, samples, and guitars. This year, their profiles have expanded further in part due to their collaboration with Big Boi as the supergroup Big Grams and also thanks to the duo bringing a bigger sound with Three, their third album, which netted them a top 10 Billboard debut. But for the longtime fans that can remember their 2009 and 2010 DC9 shows, it was no surprise when Phantogram once again treated the sold-out 9:30 Club to a powerful performance that incorporated interesting projection tricks and hard-hitting sounds from the rock, hip-hop, and electronic worlds.
Barthel, Carter, and their backing band spent the first four songs performing behind a partially-obscured screen that was hung between the band and the crowd. Abstract shapes moved around the screen to the beat as two Microsoft Kinects' tracked Barthel and Carter on stage to create real-time 3-D figures pulsating out of the dancing shapes. It was a neat stage trick that was also utilized during their summer performances with Big Grams.
But their nifty stage tricks weren't compensating for any sort of weakness - they have an unstoppable stage presence to boot. Barthel not only commanded the crowd with her forceful vocals, guitar- and keyboard-playing, but Carter gave a powerful encore performance of “Barking Dog”. The performance was especially poignant because the projection screen was once again raised to display a montage of home videos featuring Barthel’s sister, who passed away earlier this year.
Although their sound has slowly evolved, there was something for Phantogram fans both old and new. Older, more melodic songs like “When I’m Small” received huge receptions, as did the more in-your-face outputs from Three like “You Don't Get Me High Anymore” that turned the guitar and percussion up to eleven. You can always count on Phantogram to showcase their intensity on stage, then flip the switch and show their vulnerable side on the next song. They’re a far cry from their DC9 days now, but Phantogram remained as thankful as they’ve always been for the two sold-out 9:30 Club shows.
Opening for Phantogram was New York-based producer The Range, whose music stems from multitudes of samples, sounds, and voices from YouTube videos coming together to carve a unique niche in the electronic world. His sophomore album Potential is out now through Domino Records.