In the world of indie music, 2010 seems to be ripe with boy-girl duos. As Spin Magazine called them, these “She and Hims” include the electro-metal Sleigh Bells, the soothing and delightful Beach House, and the headliners at the Paradise Rock Club last Wednesday night, Phantogram. Still relatively unknown, the band experienced a wave of exposure with its song “Mouthful of Diamonds,” which melds moody guitar riffs, lilting vocals, and grubby beats and blips. Wednesday’s show was the first on the band’s fall tour, and the crowd was eager to soak up every minute of the music, which truly transcends conventional genres.
The opener, Railbird, strode on stage half an hour late to a very antsy crowd, but quickly won the audience over with its intriguing lyrics and passion. Lead singer Sarah Pedinotti is like a combination of Bjork and Bob Marley. Her voice was wispy and childlike, but altogether enrapturing. The duo’s first couple of songs fell flat with the small but restless crowd, but after tearing through a cover of Micachu and the Shapes’ “Golden Phone,” it was clear that the rest of their set would be chockfull of excitement.
Fresh off their stint opening for Ra Ra Riot, guitarist Josh Carter and keyboardist Sarah Barthel strode onto the stage to a truly overwhelming reception. Armed for the first time with a touring drummer, Phantogram seemed altogether taken aback, and rewarded the club by playing “As Far As I Can See,” at which point the crowd began to sway as if hypnotized. Barthel’s fingers flew furiously across her keyboard and her synthesizer, creating an entrancing cacophony of lush sounds. When she grabbed the microphone with one hand and began to sing, new meaning was brought to the word multitasking. It was a treat to hear Carter play his multitude of guitars. Other than Barthel’s keyboard, the guitar is the most prominent instrument in Phantogram’s self-described “street beat, psych pop” sound.
One of the most fascinating things about Phantogram’s show was trying to figure out what genre, if any, the band could be pigeonholed into. Hearing their hooks accumulate and crash over the course of their songs, one picks up on clear hints of hip-hop and hushed psychedelic beats. The band says it falls stylistically somewhere between Missy Elliott and The Cure. Barthel’s meditative but powerful voice brings to mind the yelping howls of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O. And at times, her vocals mirror those of 2009 buzz band The xx’s Romy Croft, but it’s difficult to envision any other group recording something as simultaneously chilling and goofy as Phantogram’s “Running From the Cops.”
Touring for the first time with a third member, Phantogram definitely had a case of the first-night blues. After their synthesizer shut down several songs in, Barthel took control of the concert and sang the beautiful “10,000 Claps” with one hand manning her keyboard. Once all seemed well, the band proceeded to bring the house down, playing crowd-pleasers “Mouthful of Diamonds” and “Turn It Off” back to back. Sadly, their synthesizer shut down for good before their last song. To compensate, Carter quickly improvised and plugged his guitar into a stray amp, leading the band through the “first ever acoustic version” of their song “When I’m Small.” As the audience howled its approval, Barthel smiled giddily and danced her way across the stage as she and Carter delivered a stellar final song. As the last notes emanated from his guitar, Carter promised, “We’ll be back soon and when we come, we’re gonna blow your minds, Boston.” Perhaps Phantogram was unaware that our minds had already been blown.