Concert Review

Phantogram and EXITMUSIC at Cat’s Cradle, 11/15/11

I had the opportunity to see Phantogram at Cat’s Cradle last year, which ended up being a great show. I was really excited when I found out they were coming back around to the Triangle, but their performance this past Tuesday, Nov. 15, was not quite what I expected. I’ll get into this in more detail in a bit, but first I want to discuss EXITMUSIC’s opening performance.

EXITMUSIC was treated to a large crowd of fans, all pumped for the show that was about to ensue. Their set started out strong: the percussion was spot on and the lead singer had a very distinct, yet interesting voice; I instantly drew connections to the Zola Jesus performance I saw a couple of weeks before. Their style capitalized on the point at which a buzzy, guitar-driven band pushes into more intimate territory.  Unfortunately, that became redundant after a while. It was as if every song was meant to build momentum, but the set never hit a climax (although, it would fit their name of “EXITMUSIC”: every song written like the last song of an album).  The crowd was pretty stoical as well, presumably due to the fact they were just there to see Phantogram.  Their recordings do not succumb to this issue, however, so I would recommend listening to this band.

The set change involved putting a ton of lights around the stage, which got me excited for what was to come. The projections during Phantogram’s last performance were spot on, so I was excited to see how all of these lights were going to be implemented into the show. After the stage had been filled with fog and all of the band’s equipment set up, the crowd was pumped for Phantogram to begin.

After getting over the initial shock of the amazing light setup that was taking place, I realized I wasn’t into the performance. Phantogram started by playing a lot of tracks from their new EP, Nightlife, and an irking rework of an older song from their debut, Eyelid Moves. The striking break-beat drums of that release had been replaced by a more rolling rhythm line, and the guitar had been pushed down in the mix to make room for heavily sequenced synthesizers. The dark and intimate emotion of their older work was being replaced by a sense of artificial happiness that did not go over well, in my opinion. The crowd, which was densely packed and composed of a lot of new faces, didn’t seem to mind, and the band trudged on.

This mood pervaded a good bit of the rest of the set. Things started to change as the aggressive drumming on “Futuristic Casket” began (break-beat intact). The performance of that song was a complete change-up for the set. It felt aggressive and dark, and I was very impressed with how the lights interacted with the music. They ended their main set appropriately with “When I’m Small,” which was also a very solid rendition that rang true with everything their fans love about the original.

As the band left the stage briefly, mountains of applause erupted. Phantogram came back for a two-song encore, which began with the uncharacteristically slow “Nightlife.” This song was probably the highlight of my night; instead of pushing in those aggressive synths like they had for much of the performance, they kept the song rather stripped-down, which was a great stylistic choice both as a performance progression and as a closer.

All in all, Cat’s Cradle put on a decent show, though there were some mixing kinks. In general, the vocals were fairly quiet, and the percussion during EXITMUSIC’s set was mic’d too high. I would most definitely go back to the venue and am still digging the changes they implemented earlier this year.

-John and Kenneth