Sunday, May 11, 2014

Phantogram, Ruby Lounge Manchester, May 11th 2014 9/10

It's unusual to want to listen to a support act all evening, but that was my feeling after seeing Brighton UK residents KINs, a quartet originating from Melbourne. They're managed by the same team as Alt-J, and I could hear something of their quirky experimentation about their sound, albeit with slower tempos. The 2013 self-titled album is interesting, but gives little hint of their energy of stage. Long, psychedelic guitar sections and dynamic bass are my abiding memories; the falsetto vocals are the closest reminder of Alt-J. Undoubtedly a group to watch.

I needn't have been concerned that Phantogram was in any danger of being upstaged though: they are one of those acts that is totally engaging and mesmerising from the moment they come on stage. The duo of Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel, friends since childhood, were joined on stage by a live drummer and keyboard player. The key to the ability of this synth pop to transport me was the all absorbing dark atmosphere they created. Their new album Voices may seem a little too much of the moment for some, but live this fusion of shoegaze, trip hop and R&B is anything but bland or generic.

After the formality and distance of Coachella, it was magical to be right at the front of a small club venue again, feeling physically as well as aurally involved in the experience. Admittedly, the lighting in this venue is rudimentary, but the intensity of the sound was matched by Sarah's amazing stage presence. She danced constantly through the 70 minute set, flicking her hair whilst her head bobbed to every thunderous beat. The tight rhythms and deep bass created a huge, powerful sound which permeated my entire body, aided by the aggression of the drummer.

The New Yorkers said little between songs, perhaps for fear of breaking the spell they had created. Observing Sarah from close quarters, it was obvious like St Vincent earlier this year that she's in character on stage, totally committed in a wildly creative zone. She's performed with Josh since 2007: they're clearly complete masters of their instruments technically, but there was relatively little overt interaction between the two. Sarah very much felt like the lead performer, her ethereal vocals enhanced by airy reverberation, complemented by Josh's harder voice. There's a considerable degree of tension as the songs progress, once you realise how immense the climaxes become, and the audience was quickly drawn in.

There was real intensity to this performance, and the evening felt almost dream like: it was a considerable adjustment to emerge from this basement into the rainy Manchester air afterwards, rather like finding yourself on another continent after a plane journey. Yes, it had been visually arresting, but musically they also transcend their peers by pushing the boundaries of pop into the psychedelic. It's shadowy music of the night, yet with a groove that makes it eminently danceable. Other worldly sounds, yet with the melancholy depth of real life, and utterly unmissable live.

Set List (* from Voices album)
  • Nothing But Trouble*
  • Running From The Cops
  • As Far As I Can
  • Black out Days*
  • Turning Into Stone
  • Bad Dreams*
  • Don't Move
  • The Day You Died*
  • Howling at the Moon*
  • Fall in Love*
  • When I'm Small
  • Mouthful of Diamonds
  • Celebrating Nothing

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