It had only been about seven months since the band’s last Colorado appearance, but Phantogram had no trouble returning with the nice weather to sell out Denver’s Ogden Theatre on Tuesday. The presentation was similar to when the duo played here in October at the smaller and sold out Gothic Theater. The audience was once again blasted with a huge, stroby light show. Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel were up front with their band backing them up in semi-shadow. And throughout the night Phantogram posed the question: Why fix something that isn’t broken?
Sure it had only been seven months since Colorado last got a glimpse of the dark synth-pop duo, but in that time it released its excellent sophomore album. And clearly the album’s strength was reason enough to catch Phantogram again.
When the first notes of “Nothing But Trouble” hit, the white lights started shooting at mounted mirrors along the stage in time to the trip hop beat. With the hot beams creating a faux laser effect and flashing in and out of the audience, Barthel started to move. Writhing and popping, Barthel swung her black mop of hair around the mic stand in between controlled dance at the keyboard. She plussed the crowd’s fervent dancing and had them woven into a spell of hypnotic vocal melodies and heavy synths. If anything this was confidence — Barthel must have felt as if she owned the city, standing in front of a sold out audience for the second time within a year.
With a live backing band, Phantogram was held in place with tight live drumming. It’s key to this mechanically-produced music and the group’s percussionist kept in the pocket throughout the night. “Celebrating Nothing” brought the most pop of the evening, with that huge pulsating beat and major chords. Singing along with each Rihanna-esque “eh eh eh,” “Black Out Days” from Phantogram’s new album, “Voices,” hit home in Denver. But the night took its lulls every time Josh Carter took the microphone — as he does on “I Don’t Blame You” — his voice gets lost in the mix. Hardly a strong singer on his own, and dwarfed compared to Barthel, Carter’s moments at the center lacked any true grip. Amid the thick walls of synth patches, tracks like “Bill Murray” (a fantastic song title, by the way) acted as welcome breaks throughout the set. After a bass-focused “When I’m Small,” Phantogram returned for a three-song encore of “Mouthful of Diamonds,” “Celebrating Nothing” and “Futuristic Casket.”
Marc Hobelman makes websites at The Denver Post, tweets pictures of his cat and is a regular contributor to Reverb.
Nathan Iverson is a Denver photographer and regular contributor to Reverb.