I went to The Palladium on Saturday night fully expecting to write something, anything, about my experience seeing the exhilarating electro pop duo, Phantogram. The enjoyment I get from writing for this site comes from the fact that it’s all very loose and unrestricted. I don’t have to rate a concert out of ten or make a quality judgment, so long as I feel like I’m expressing thoughts and insight worth reading.
It was hard to do that for Phantogram because, for some reason, there was an overpowering amount of bass that obscured most of the songs. Sorry. Just being real. But before I get into that I’d like to say some positive things.
It was a great light show. There were some great color schemes and variations that were very apt for this kind of dark dance music. You never felt like they were replaying lighting tricks, and everything had character. Sarah Barthel is a great stage presence. She has the capacity for rocking out and the mystique Karen O, but also a fraction of Alice Glass’ tortured soul. I may be making these comparisons because they are all women with dark hair and bangs. Music writers tend to fall on lazy comparisons like that, but no one else comes to mind when trying to describe her performance.
She also looks incredible when performing. I try not to be the type that gawks and reduces every frontwoman to just her appearance, but it can’t be denied that it plays into her outward stage presence and is a central part of the band’s presentation.
I would talk more about the music if I wasn’t hung up on just how oppressive the bass was. I don’t know if that was on purpose, or if that was just some rogue front of house engineer’s idea of dance music, or if we were simply in front of a speaker. For the record, we were left of the stage, maybe 4 rows back. But I gotta believe that, no matter where you are on the floor, no concert should sound that difficult. The opening act, White Sea, sounded fine. From Phantogram’s “Nothing But Trouble” onward (with the exception of one and a half quiet songs) everything was drowned in ribcage-rattling fuzz.
I can appreciate that up to a point. One of my favorite concert memories was getting my soul fucked up by the bass at a Crystal Castles show. But when it’s a constant overbearing presence in nearly all of the songs, even the songs where it doesn’t seem appropriate, it’s hard to enjoy. I gave it an honest shot. I drank, I danced, I closed my eyes and focused. But halfway through the concert I just had to admit to myself I could barely hear shit.
“Mouthful of Diamonds” is one of those songs I’ve listened to over and over again. I have its grooves etched in my brain. It’s a delightful song that oscillates around a catchy and bright guitar line. When the song finally came on, I could barely hear anything above an aggressive BWAAAAAAMP BWAAAAAMP BWA-BWAAAAMP. I considered writing this post like that, just sentences interrupted by a bass every third word, to convey the feeling of trying to get information out of a sea of distraction.
Mostly I just followed the suggestion of what I could hear — the occasional high pitched synth, a falsetto note from Barthel, the drums — and filled in the rest of the song in my head. It worked well enough. I did not have a bad time. I just don’t feel like I got The Phantogram Experience, and that’s a shame.