With her conspicuously exposed midriff, jet-black hair, tight white jeans and fingerless gloves that were often wrapped up in a pumping fist, Sarah Barthel looked more like she was headed to a Ratt concert than headlining a sold-out, 89.3-the-Current-buoyed, hipster-heavy First Avenue show. Her band Phantogram, on the other hand, looked and sounded like it was an arena-rock band in waiting, with a light show and elements of Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails and “Achtung”-brand U2 spliced together.
Sunday’s 85-minute set boasted 10 of the 11 tracks on Phantogram’s new album, “Voices,” and about half of the ones off of the predecessor, “Eyelid Movies.” Despite the four-year gap between albums, the songs bled together cohesively. The extra wattage and rhythmic punch granted to earlier tunes such as “Running From the Cops” and “When I’m Small” certainly helped blend the two eras. The latter song was impressively stretched out into a climactic jam for the pre-encore finale, with Barthel’s partner Josh Carter tearing it up like the Edge getting his rocks off. He channeled his inner-guitar-god in a few of the new tunes, too, including “Nothing But Trouble” -- although Barthel emphasized another of Carter’s talents between songs.
“I think we can all thank Josh for creating such a great [expletive] beat,” she said after the current hit single, “Fall in Love,” drew a rabid response.
Carter didn’t make nearly as strong an impression as a vocalist. His turns at the mic in “Turning Into Stone” and “I Don’t Blame You” were reminiscent of Martin Gore’s time out front in Depeche Mode (he might be the true genius of the band, but his voice truly falls limp in concert). However, it was one of the Barthel-led new songs, “Bill Murray,” that provided the night’s biggest lull. Otherwise, the coo-to-siren-voiced songstress stood out as a compelling frontwomen with an aloof coolness akin to Metric’s Emily Haines but more of a gangly, boyish, rowdy charm reminiscent of Sleigh Bells’ Alexis Krauss.
After “Fall in Love” reignited the crowd, the show burned nonstop until the end, reaching a feverish pitch with “Howling at the Moon” and again with a spot-on “Mouthful of Diamonds.” Saying her goodbyes, Barthel singled out First Ave as a diamond in the rough. “Every time we play here, it’s our favorite show on the tour,” she said. Let’s see if they like it enough to keep playing there in lieu of a bigger venue, which is clearly what they deserve to play next time around.
Read our interview with Barthel before the show, if you missed it. Here's Sunday's set list:
Nothing But Trouble / Running From the Cops / As Far As I Can See / Black Out Days / Turning Into Stone / Bad Dreams / Don't Move / The Day You Died / Bill Murray / I Don't Blame You / Fall in Love / Howling at the Moon / When I'm Small ENCORE: Mouthful of Diamonds / Celebrating Nothing