Phantogram – a word meaning a two-dimensional form or illusion that appears three-dimensional – may be an ideal way to sum up Phantogram (the band’s) live performances.
Selecting Reno’s Grand Sierra Resort for the opening show of a monthlong cross-country tour (their first since 2017), Upstate New York’s Phantogram put on display the band’s tendencies for staging live shows that encapsulate far more than music. The two-piece vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Barthel and vocalist and guitar player Josh Carter – backed by two other musicians to round out their heavily electronic live show – perform with a visual element that borders on the transcendental.
Stepping out Friday night from behind a white shroud that silhouetted the pair’s forms center stage, they incorporated lights, a video screen and a 5-piece staggered mirror suspended above them that refracted the lighting in different forms and directions to match the mood of the music.
Introducing several new songs, some of which the band announced were receiving their first live renditions on this tour, the pair’s twitchy and airy electropop settled in the darkened fringes of the theater with an enveloping resonance. Keeping the Grand Theatre’s side video monitors turned off and with all stage lighting focused on center stage, the band was able to dim the fringes and build an aura that felt as if the show was taking place in a small club, setting a stronger mood given that the performance took on a ferocious intimate intensity instead of feeling as if there was the separation of a larger venue between the band and the audience.
Barthel danced around the stage, frequently taking her spot behind the shroud on a riser, playing a sequencer in silhouette, while Carter stood near the front of the stage, anchored by a multitude of pedals. Seeming to build in tone as the night progressed to an almost crescendoing moment of Bethel reached far above her with two round mirror pieces, directing the focused light beams throughout the theater while singing the trailing notes of a song.
An epileptic fever of lights for the band’s “Fall In Love” preceded a short break, before the Phantogram re-emerged onstage to encore with “When I’m Small” before a sense of quietness cloaked the room and the house lights slowly came back on. And with the previous 90 minutes, Phantogram showed that its shows are created to trigger more senses than just the aural.
— Shaun Astor