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CONCERT REVIEW: PHANTOGRAM AND THE RANGE: BOSTON, MA 10/21/16

review by Michael McCarthy

all photos by Joshua Bernard

Electronic producer/artist The Range – real name, James Hinton – opened the show, taking to the stage at 8:05 with “New Lots.” He delivered a high energy set of songs mostly taken from his recently released sophomore album Potential and its predescesor Nonfiction. Although he played his own sample-driven music exclusively – well, one song, “Run,” was his remix of a Tourist song – most of the songs were blended together as a continuous mix, which probably gave a lot of people in the audience the impression that he was a DJ, albeit a fantastic DJ at that. Opening for Phantogram – one of today’s hottest acts – you weren’t going to have an easy crowd to win over but Hinton held the audience in the palm of his hand, compelling much of the sold out crowd to dance as though they were at a rave. It was mesmerizing to hear how he meshed his songs together, adding a vocal here, shifting the pitch there, blurring two songs into one and so on. Highlights included “Florida,” “Copper Wire” and “Five Four.” As we discussed in his recent Love is Pop interview, the vocals from Hinton’s songs are sampled from Youtube videos he found that had a considerably low number of plays, making him something of a champion of the unheard. It’s too bad he couldn’t have some of the vocalists on tour with him to provide live vocals, which would have helped ensure that the audience knew he was an artist and not simply a DJ. Then again, he’s splices and dices the vocal samples so much in his songs that it would be a tongue twister for most of the singers to attempt to perform them live. Although we know that he has done some collaborating to that end at select dates in the past. Otherwise, I did find myself wishing that his set was accompanied by video footage because just watching him use his rectangle shapped instrument throughout the set was slightly tiring on the eyes. The music was excellent on its own though.

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Phantogram – the dynamic duo consisting of Sarah Barthel (lead vocals/bass guitar/synth) and Josh Carter (lead vocals/guitars) – took to the stage at 9:20 and kicked off their sixteen song set with “Funeral Pyre,” the mesmerizing opening track from their just released new album Three, which is, no shocker, their third album. What is a bit surprising is that it’s currently in the U.S. top 10. Not bad for a somewhat obscure duo that can’t even be assigned a genre distinction because they blur the lines between so many of them. Actually, that could be precisely why they’re doing so well; when you don’t fall nicely into one or two categories, you have better chances of appealing to fans of several. As for what those genres are, for starters I’d say electronica (at the risk of aging myself), synth pop, trip-hop, electro-pop, synth rock, and the list goes on and on. The lines get further blurred when you’re listening to them perform live with an actual drummer, as opposed to the largely programmed beats on their albums. In concert, they’re like a cross between St. Vincent and Sleigh Bells, possessing the former’s blend of intricate guitars with an electronic soundscape and the latter’s mix of hooks and blasted, metal-esque beats that damn near knock you off your feet.

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Like the first, the following three songs – “Black Out Days,” “Don’t Move,” and “Turning Into Stone” – were performed from behind a screen. During “Funeral Pyre,” it was simply a matter of shadow play, but during the three songs that followed various patterns of white light were projected onto the screen, as well as another screen behind the band, framing them in rectangles and other shapes. When the screen finally fell just before “Your Mine,” the audience rejoiced, their screams going from a roaring nine to a sub-woofer blowing 11.

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In addition to a live drummer, Barthel and Carter were joined by an additional keyboardist, which allowed Barthel to play bass guitar on most songs. When she occasionally played keyboards, the additional keyboardist picked up the bass guitar. So, you very much felt like you were at a rock concert throughout the show even if rock is probably what their albums least sound like. To that end, most of the songs they performed were reinvented live. The shift from programmed to live drum beats alone made them into a whole different animal, but other parts were slightly different, like Barthel play bass guitar on songs that would seem to have programmed or synthesized bass on the albums. There seemed to be little tempo and lead guitar changes to some songs as well. To that end, many of the songs seemed longer than they are on their albums. Not in a bad way, mind you. Just in an exhilarating live music fashion.

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Before “Same Old Blues,” Barthel dedicated the song to her mother, who she said was in the audience. “She’s here and she’s hot and she’s single,” she said, getting a laugh from the crowd. At another point, Barthel asked, “Where are all my college friends?”, getting cheers from most of the crowd. A song later, she clarified, “I was asking where my college friends were. I forgot Boston is a big college town.”

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After an initial 12 song set, the duo and company returned to the stage for a four song encore with the screen in front of them again for the first two of those songs, “Barking Dog” and “Cruel World,” but rather than seemingly random shapes this time images of the duo were projected on the screen at one point and stars at another, making you feel like you were in a rocket racing through space. The final two songs of the set were highly infectious “Fall In Love” and “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore,” arguably the duo’s two most popular songs, and they brought down the house. The only song really missed from their set was the ballad “Bill Murray” from their previous album “Voices.”

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Written by

Paris365

An entertainment journalist for 20 years, Michael McCarthy was a columnist and contributing editor for the magazines Lollipop and LiveWire. He co-created and wrote for Cinezine, one of the '90's most popular movie E-zines. The only time he's not listening to music is when he's watching television shows and movies or reading, usually music magazines.

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