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Review Thu Feb 18 2010
A Starbucks iTunes Pick of the Week, a KEXP Song of the Day and a full-length album on Barsuk don't exactly hinder a band's popularity. Neither does an ethereal electronic/pop/trip-hop sound like what Phantogram delivers. Debut LP Eyelid Movies can come off as a hybrid of Chairlift, Massive Attack and School of Seven Bells without being overbearing or polluted. The atmosphere is similar to that of the xx, in that it's not difficult to soak in the background if necessary.
However, on a stage the duo commands undivided attention. At Schubas on Wednesday, multi-instrumentalists Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel initially played it cool with a sleek detached vibe. Soon enough they thrashed at their gear, headbanging and flailing in controlled chaos for the near-capacity crowd. It didn't hurt that the music was ratcheted up with their self-described street beats at the forefront. But perhaps the most striking element of their performance was the shared vocal duties. It seems some bands keep the male/female dynamic simply as a gimmick. With Phantogram it sounds genuine. Even though Carter writes a majority of the usually dark lyrics, Barthel pulls hers off with aplomb like p>Haunting sweetness through crowd favorites like "Mouthful of Diamonds" and "When I'm Small."
At the end of their 40-minute set with a 2-song planned encore, it was clear that Phantogram on record and on a stage are two different beasts. And neither should be passed up. (Luckily, Phantogram will be back soon as openers for the Antlers at Lincoln Hall on April 22.)