The last time I went to a Phantogram show was a year ago. It seemed like a rough night for everyone; I had forgotten my ID, Phantogram’s venue had been moved at last second to The Smallest Bar in Phoenix and I dragged poor Ally to the show with me despite her contempt for any kind of music made after 1984 that nobody had ever heard of before.
Band members Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter seemed both exasperated and annoyed, displaying their paraphernalia on a pool table cum merch table next to the “stage” (read: blocked off corner) where they’d be playing. When I bought a vinyl, they seemed grateful, if not totally annoyed, but I knew it wasn’t at me. Always on a quest to make an impression, I try to chat with them.
“I love your music,” I say as Sarah signs my vinyl. She seems out of breath because she’s setting up nine things at once.
“Thanks,” she says off handedly. Her cool hair shaking as her arm swoops a big ‘S’ in Sharpie. Even signing shit, she’s working it.
Josh smiles at me, “It’s ah- a tough night,” he says and shrugs.
Prior to the show, out of the twenty people that showed up, I know roughly half of them, but that doesn’t stop me from counting fedoras and feathered earrings because it was about six months before I bought my first feathered anything. I refused to admit that I was of the Counter Culture quite yet. Even though I was that asshole who was going around saying I’d been listening to Phantogram for a year before their first show in Phoenix.
Ally and I were in the midst of trying to out-hipster each other with American Spirit flavored adages such as, “So like I’m sort of over the whole NPR thing. I actually listen to Pandora now exclusively on cassette?” but we were really just pots calling the kettle plaid; I sat with my freshly pressed and signed Phantogram vinyl in hand trying to keep my bangs out of my eyes and Ally had on vintage clothing. Basically, we are hipster girl types A and B already, but we actually don’t like to adhere to labels? It’s not good for our personal brands. So, when she told me she was vegan, I laughed thinking it was part of the act. Kinda like when I said I was going to get a tattoo sleeve with a Wes Anderson theme. (Note: I can’t even get my ears pierced, so the chances of my getting a tattoo are about as good as Lindsay Lohan ever not having a coke addiction.)
I later found out she meant it, but that’s beside the point.
I stayed towards the back while Josiah Wolf played, though his set was thoroughly interesting and entertaining. A drummer for the band WHY?, Josiah Wolf had released his solo Jet Lag earlier that year and was the opening act. I was impressed, though the crowd, save for one boy in his own world, rocking out to every beat, seemed to just be waiting patiently for the Phantogram show they weren’t even sure was actually going to happen that night until twenty minutes prior.
When Phantogram finally begins, Ally goes back to sit at a booth, over the whole concert experience, and I move to the front, finding a place next to a boy who was setting out a necklace, posters, rocks, and a candle on an amp in front of Sarah. I should note now that this boy stunk beyond Hipster Stank, beyond I forgot to shower today, and beyond I accidentally just rolled around in my own shit. It was something I’d never had a whiff of before. I think it’s called Insanity. Sarah ignores him as he screams, “I love you!” even before they start playing. In the tight place between a speaker and me, the heavyset boy can barely move and so he steps behind me and luckily, the fans blowing from the corner take his stench backwards and beyond so everyone else can smell him, but I can’t. Until he dry humps me.
“The fuck!” I say, as I push him off me and a bigger dude sans fedora but plus tattoo sleeve steps between him and me.
“You okay?” he asks.
I nod yeah, give him a thanks and throw the weirdo a dirty look as security drags him away. The rest of the set went well. I had an amazing spot, basically sitting on top of Sarah Barthel’s keyboard, and they played every song from their album Eyelid Movies. It was kind of like Super Fan #99’s big ol’ wet dream.
When the set was over, the stinky dude waddled back over as a girl stopped making out with her girlfriend long enough to spot the gifts he’d left for Sarah. “Pretty…” she says, like she’s three as she reaches for the necklace.
“No!” the gremlin cries, “Those are for Sarah!”
The lesbian and her lesbian girlfriend (is there any other kind? Oh, I guess bi-curious) stops dead in their tracks and the one girl drops the crystal necklace. “Whoa,” she says.
“Sarah! Sarah!” the guy is shouting to her and she’s one inch away and pretending not to even notice him. “Sarah, these are for you!”
She nods and says, “Thanks,” quietly and, satisfied, the boy turns around and leaves, but not before shouting one more, “I love you!”
So, this time when I see Phantogram a year later, I know to bring my ID so I can actually get a drink. It’s the first time I’m at a show alone, so I figure I might need it. I originally was going with my friend Andrew, but he had too much to drink at dinner and couldn’t get his tush to the show (update: Andrew claims he had flu symptoms). I knew people who were going to be there, but didn’t actually go with anyone. Luckily, as my therapist once said to me, I am “great at being a loner.”
Wasn’t really sure if that was a compliment or not, but you know, I went with it.
I grab a drink at the bar and lean adorably against a railing outside on the patio. The heat had just broken in Phoenix and left without an opener since Reptar canceled at last moment, a majority of the people at this sold out show were smoking or enjoying the not 95 degree air outside. One of which was my friend Ben.
“Stephanie Sparer,” he says to me across the patio and I am so disoriented by hearing my own name that I start to look around like Bambi hearing gunshots. I spot him and he gives me a hug, “Where are all the people who love you?” he asks and I laugh, explaining that I’m freeballing until I just run into people. He’s listening but not looking at me, he’s feeling awkward because his date isn’t here yet and I find myself looking for her too, despite never meeting this girl before and having no idea what she looks like. Ben goes to greet his date right as I run into my friend, Tiffany, a girl I’d spoken to on Twitter for about two years but had never actually met. She’s taller than I thought she’d be, but in a gazelle sort of way and not in an awkward way and I’m 5’2” and jealous. We make our way into the show as my friend Leanne walks in. I forget I even came to the show alone.
The Crescent Theatre is packed, and that’s putting it mildly. I imagine it’s like the fun version of the cattle cars all the Jews were shoved into on the way to the concentration camps. I can’t move. Drinks are spilled on me and the guy next to me is petting the air because he’s on some fantastic drug they probably don’t even sell in the states.
“That’s weird, right?” I ask Leanne, standing next to me.
Leanne nods and tries to get some video of the dude. She can’t really though because I’m too busy petting the air next to him, mocking his motions.
Phantogram doesn’t talk much during their hour long or so set, but they don’t have to. This isn’t that kind of show. People came for the music. They know that.
Immediately the band begins playing a new song from their LP Nightlife. Sarah is in a signature tank top and jeans and while I can’t really see her (I am so short, you guys) I already know her hair is probably doing that cool ass swooshing thing it always does.
She and Josh play some old favorites from Eyelid Movies along the way to please the crowd. Their ‘new sound’ is a lot like their old sound. “16 Years,” one of my favorite new tracks, feels a lot like it could have been a bonus track on their last album, which is just fine with me. Sarah’s vocals over the hard base are what we’ve come to love and expect from Phantogram, so the crowd isn’t disappointed since, well, it sounds exactly like we all wanted it to.
Over the 80s beat on “Turning Into Stone,” Leanne leans into my ear, “This is white people music!” she shouts, “This is white kid hip hop!”
“Thought that was Jay-Z?” I yell back, but the music is so loud, I don’t think Leanne heard me. Because if she did, she would have killed me. The crowd grooves to the music as best we can. Cat Guy still pawing the air, and later my hair.
Not deviating from their sound was probably a good choice, but their new music does feel maybe more mature. While the new songs all have a that slight edginess of I Could Totally Turn Depressing If You Listen To Me In The Dark, Sarah does sing more about love on the Nightlife EP (she’s questioning if she’s feeling love again, for example, on “16 Years”), and that hopefulness in contrast to say… “Futuristic Casket,” is a nice change of pace for what can sometimes be a hard listen. If you’re on your way to a funeral. But that last one is perhaps a personal story for another time.
Here’s some very grainy video of why we’ve all come to love
Three years after I started loving Phantogram.
I’m just kidding.
But no seriously, I’m an asshole.