Phantogram - Grand Central, Miami


With Bad Things

Saturday, June 28, 2014

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Grand Central, Miami

Better Than: A mouthful of diamonds.

Remember chillwave, the insufferable genre term coined and popularized by Pitchfork? It was a poor way to justify crappy production as a lo-fi aesthetic. They weren't fooling anybody, and after a year, everyone stopped caring.

Few acts -- the better ones -- survived. Phantogram was one of those acts.

See also: Phantogram on New Album, Voices, and Big Boi Saying "I Love Your Music"

Taking advantage of chillwave's atmospheric synths and beefing them up with slicker production values and gorgeous harmonies, the duo's debut album, Eyelid Movies, served as the perfect transition out of chillwave territory, with cuts like "Mouthful of Diamonds" and "When I'm Small" leading the way.

This year, Phantogram's Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter released their much-awaited follow up, Voices, which is what has them touring the country and performing at Grand Central.

Opening the show was Bad Things, whose biggest claim to fame is that Olympic snowboarder Shaun White is the band's guitarist. It would be easy to dismiss the band as White's vanity project, but that would be unfair.

The quintet are obviously apt musicians. But unfortunately, they are a bit boring. Frontman Davis LeDuke isn't charismatic enough to take control and entertain the crowd. The songs aren't memorable enough to leave any kind of impression beyond, "Well, that was nice."

I'm not sure which one is better for a band: being horrible but memorable or OK and forgettable. In any case, Bad Things falls in the latter category. But, hey, they've got Shaun White on guitar!

The crowd gathered at Grand Central wasn't there to see Bad Things, though.

See also: Ten Best Girl Bands Ever

"Phan-to-gram!" yelled a crowd of bros gathered stage right. Then Phantogram emerged to give Miami a 15-song set and light-filled show.

Oh, the lights! Can we talk about set and lighting design for a moment? Most bands probably think they need to spend a crazy amount of money to make an impact on stage. Not sure how much Phantogram spent on its live setup, but it was nothing more than a couple dozen lights and mirrors to help reflect them. Just those few things and some well-timed coordination with the songs allowed for maximum impact.

Kicking off with "Nothing But Trouble," the frenetic flickering and flashing of light was so intense that it should have come with an epileptic seizure warning.

But the real climax wouldn't come until more than halfway through the set. During "Bill Murray," Barthel wrapped herself in a gold-sequin cape as she sang the song atop a crate. The lights around her formed a perfect pyramid. Then suddenly, the lights moved and hit her cape, coloring the entire room in glittery gold. It was beautiful in its simplicity.

Other highlights included "Black Out Days," "Don't Move," and "Howling at the Moon." But let me interject here ...

Phantogram's Voices hasn't exactly been a critical darling like the duo's debut. However, in a live setting, I found it difficult to note any difference in quality between the songs. Everything worked well and sounded phenomenal, except for a couple of moments when it seemed like the frenetic instrumentation was drowning out the vocals -- a shame really since both Barthel and Carter are amazing vocalists. However, some tinkering in the sound booth might fix that.

Right before the encore, Phantogram kicked into "When I'm Small," the song everyone knows. The sing-along was so loud that I could barely hear Barthel. She seemed a little taken aback by the response.

The love for Phantogram continued as they said goodbye and returned for an encore. The crowd would not quit. I've seen a lot of shows at Grand Central, and the audience was absolutely deafening.

"Thank you so fucking much! Oh my god!" said Barthel. "If you keep screaming, we can't play."

As the band launched into "Mouthful of Diamonds," the sing-along continued, probably even louder than the previous one. Barthel could have probably just handed over vocal duties to the audience.

It was great to see an audience connect so deeply with a band. It was one of our favorite shows at the venue -- perhaps ever.

Thank you so much, Phantogram.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: Honk if you love good lighting design! Honk! Honk!

Overheard in the Crowd: "Best show ever!" declared Grand Central's Aramis Lorie after we saw him upstairs at the Garret.

By the Way: While Phantogram has a lot of electronic music elements, I wouldn't consider them dance music. That didn't stop the drunken couple in front of me trying to bust out moves like they were on MTV's The Grind. (Remember that show? Or did I just age myself?)

Phantogram's Setlist:

-"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"


-"Mouthful of Diamonds"

-"Celebrating Nothing"

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