Words by Jessi Brandhagen. Photos by Akira Okazaki.
The fact that Phantogram was greeted with obvious enthusiasm after a drawn-out gap between the opening act and the headliner speaks to both the mellow patience of a Portland audience, and the caliber of the music they stood for so long to see.
Wisely opting to skip any introduction, Phantogram immediately rocked the packed Wonder Ballroom with their characteristic heavy-hitting beats. The band's hip-hop influenced percussion (courtesy of Tim Oakley) would seem better suited to Ghostface Killah than a rock band, and yet the breathy vocals and edgy guitar riffs—provided by Sarah Barthel and John Carter, respectively—mesh well with the band's pull-no-punches rythms. It's hard not to make the comparison to a harder, synth- and keyboard-driven Portishead.
"Thanks for sweating with us!" said Barthel, after what was indeed a sweaty few songs. Launching back into a set of primarily uptempo tunes, the band threw Carter's growling, half-spoken lyrics added to the mix. But both Barthel and Carter's vocals seemed to be competing with the music for the majority of the set. Whether this was by design or merely something that went unnoticed during soundcheck, it would have been lovely to hear more of the voices that leave these songs with a melancholy balance to the razor-sharp instrumentals.
Despite the sweltering venue, the crowd began pressing for an encore before the silhouettes of the clearly exhausted trio had even faded from view. They reemerged from backstage, and Barthel attempted to make her thank you's audible over the roar of the audience.
The opening chords of "Nightlife", the haunting title track from their second EP began to fill the room. The noise slowly died as everyone seemed to pause and sway to the music. Many artists would have seen this as an appropriate place to slip off stage, but Phantogram, in keeping with the electric feel they had maintained throughout the evening, pulled the crowd to a bobbing frenzy once more with two more impressively driven songs before departing with a final few waves.