Phantogram at The Fillmore in Detroit, MI

Phantogram treats fans to a sensory overload of psycho pop and imagery at The Fillmore Detroit with support from Bob Moses.

Canadian electronica group Bob Moses gets the night off to a great start with an hour-long, 11-song set of cool beats, pulsing rhythms, and guitar. The core of the band is the duo of Tom Howie on vocals and guitar and Jimmy Vallance on keyboards and electronics. For the live tour though, they are accompanied by a drummer and bassist. While they may be heavy on the layered electronics, their sound is hard to pigeonhole into just electronica. Songs go from slower, mellow beats and soft vocals to jazz-like vibes and even faster-paced beats. Their set spans their 2 albums plus a cool cover, with more than half coming from their latest release, the 2018 album Battle Lines. Kicking off their set is “Heaven Only Knows” from that release. They immediately have the early crowd engaged not only with the killer music but also the cool lighting with deep reds, blues and plenty of backlighting.

They waste no time between songs as most transition right into the next song with no break. “Talk” from the 2015 release Days Gone By has an almost tribal-like rhythm to it that gets people moving. They follow that up with several more songs from their latest release including “Back Down,” “Nothing But You,” and “Eye for an Eye.” “Enough to Believe” is accompanied by some cool light streaming down in rays from behind. “Listen to Me” leads into a jam with smashing drums and fast flashing lights and goes right into an awesome cover of the Prodigy hit “Breathe.”  The fans are loving it as they sing along with Tom and Jimmy to the lyrics “breathe the pressure” and “psychosomatic addict insane”.

They close out their set with “All I Want” and the lengthy, alternative radio hit from 2015 “Tearing Me Up.”  When they announce it, the fans erupt with huge cheers, which is not unexpected as it probably is their biggest and most well-known song. It is truly one of the best and longest opening sets we’ve seen and has the fans primed for the headliner to come.

The time has finally arrived for the headliner Phantogram as the lights dim and the band takes the stage behind a sheer, white curtain. “News Today” starts it off as the densely lit stage is occasionally hit with bursts of white light that allow you to briefly see the band members. They follow this with the popular “Black Out Days” from Voices that has them being hit with red lights that allow for some cool silhouettes of the band, especially lead vocalist Sarah Barthel as her hair and the fringe on her jacket fly about. Emerging from behind the curtain, they play “Run Run Blood” from the 2016 album Three and follow that with “Don’t Move” that has the exact opposite effect as the fans are certainly active tonight.

Consisting of the duo of Sarah Barthel and guitarist/vocalist Josh Carter, they too have brought along a live drummer and keyboardist tonight. While their music is heavy on the electronic sounds and has them being tied to genres like electronica, trip-hop, and psycho pop, there are also influences of jazz, pop, alternative and rock in their music. Many songs transition through several of these in a single song. It is one of the things that makes them stand out.

It has been a few years since Phantogram last played Detroit at the Mo Pop Festival in 2017. The fans have been anxious for them to return and judging by the set up to this point, they are not going to be disappointed. In addition to the cool lighting, a large screen behind the band shows images and video during most songs. And the sound tonight is dialed in with clear vocals and deep, pulsing bass and drums. Sarah is a big part of the show with her stage presence playing bass and electronics, but mostly for her vocals, dance moves, and playing up to the fans. She captures everyone’s attention. She struts and dances across the stage and throws in occasional kicks and thrashes her hair around.

Keeping the crowd engaged is not hard as they kick it into high gear with “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore” and then “Mouthful of Diamonds” where Sarah leads the crowd with some clapping. Josh takes the lead singing on the new song “Into Happiness,” while black and white TV images scroll down the video screen. The next song, “You are the Ocean,” starts with some cool images of stars and heavy bass. This transitions into the upbeat “Howling at the Moon” with fast drums and Sarah manning the keys at the end along with leading fast clapping. A new slow-paced song, “Gaunt Kids” is up next with Sarah and Josh walking slowly across the stage and delivering the vocals almost as if talking. 

After “Cruel World” and “Calling All,” another new song “Mister Impossible” that has Sarah playing what looks like a Maschine and the stage is hit with strobe lights. Their highest charting hit “Fall in Love” has the fans cheering loudly, waving, and dancing as the stage gets hit with smoke to add to the already cool vibe of the music. Sarah then takes some time to address suicide, an issue that has impacted her greatly with the death of her sister Becky a few years ago. She tells the crowd “if you are not feeling right, talk to someone.” She tells them, “don’t go, stay here.”  Dedicating “Ceremony” to her sister, Sarah attaches mirrored disks on each hand and light hits them and sends beams out. On the video is a pulsing image of what looks to be a partially eclipsed sun. Toward the end, her voice soars while her hands reach overhead toward the heavens as if reaching out to her sister. It is a very touching song and moment. She thanks the fans as the band exits.

Returning to the stage, they play the slower song “Answer” that has falling stars trickling down on the screen behind them. They close out their rousing set with another fan favorite, “When I’m Small,” from the 2010 album Eyelid Movies. Once again fans wave their arms in the air while dancing about, while black and while psychedelic swirls and images flash on the screen. Sarah waves to the fans and thanks them again before leaving the stage.

It is one great night of music for the old and new fans of both bands tonight. Phantogram is currently working on more music for their next release. Hopefully, it won’t be too long and that another tour will ensue shortly thereafter. In the meantime, try to catch them on this current tour that runs into late September and then a few festival dates in November.

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About Gary Pahlow 27 Articles
Gary is located in Rochester Hills, MI and has been officially photographing and writing concert reviews since early 2016. His main music interests are metal and hard rock, but he is also a fan of most genres including alternative, indie, jazz, and even some pop and country. When not covering or attending concerts, you can find him traveling with his wife or watching the Detroit Red Wings.

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