Phantogram: More Than Just An Optical Illusion

Bringing magic to their fans’ eyes and ears, duo Phantogram brought a spectacular show to Rochester, NY. I’m ready to see them again!

For Blurt Magazine:

Seven years have quickly passed since Phantogram’s debut album Eyelid Movies; the 2010 release attracted media attention and garnered fans for their ability to balance pop, hip-hop, electronica and dreamy shoegaze all into one. The New York duo, Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter, has come a long way since their formative days. After their catchy music caught the ears of industry veterans they’ve collaborated with acts such as hip-hop maven Big Boy and the eccentric alt-rock group Flaming Lips; further proof of their sonic chameleon abilities.

Perhaps this independent band is on the cusp of transcending the label “independent”; until then, Phantogram continues to tour extensively and made a stop in Rochester, NY while promoting their aptly named third LP,Three. Joining a long night of music, Phantogram was one of five bands performing at Main Street Armory. The roster included a mixture of alternative, pop, folk-rock with bands such as Bleeker, Judah & the Lion and headliner Grouplove; but, this biased BLURTer set her sights solely on Phantogram.

A sizable venue, Main Street Armory was the perfect venue for an indoor, winter festival. Able to hold a large audience concert-goers either milled in front of the stage or flowing about the outskirts drinking or smoking profusely while scores of music goers assured their spot centerstage. Billed to perform before the last act Phantogram played a slightly shorter set and had one hour to command the stage; they did just that.

Touring with Nicholas Shelestak on effects and keys and Chris Carhart on drums, Phantogram’s sonic elixir enchanted their fans as the audience cheered, danced and jumped along to the music. Every song they performed sounded great as Barthel threw her hands in the air to pump up the audience during songs and fans happily joined her. Playing songs from their three LPs and EP Nightlife, Barthel and Carter played mostly high octane tracks to the delight of the crowd.

Opening with older songs first, Phantogram didn’t waste time getting the audience excited with the danceable “Black Out Days,” “Don’t Move” and “Fall in Love.” Early hits “When I’m Small” and their first big single “Mouthful of Diamonds” were met with loud cheers and hands thrown into the air. A multi instrumental band Barthel switched between her keyboard and bass while Carter played guitar and effects. Even the slightly mellower, ballad-esque “The Answer” from Three, sung by both Carter and Barthel was a thrilling performance as the bridge of the song gives way to an explosion of guitar and drums; the drumming was exciting to see live as Carhart feverishly and methodically banged on his set.

An exciting band, Phantogram sounded flawless live. Only room for improvement, if only they were not part of a music festival this night and could’ve played a longer set.

Setlist:

Black Out Days
Don’t Move
Fall in Love
Same Old Blues
Answer
When I’m Small
Mouthful of Diamonds
Howling at the Moon
You’re Mine
Cruel World
You Don’t Get Me High Anymore

Modest Mouse is Back!

For Blurt Magazine:

Modest Mouse is back! Over 20 years have passed since their inception and the creative, lo-fi, explosive rock band toured in support of their newly released Strangers to Ourselves. Though the original line up that was Modest Mouse—singer/guitarist Isaac Brock, bassist Eric Judy and drummer Jeremiah Green—has been altered, added to, individuals briefly leave and return, the consistent member has always been Brock. Indeed, as the bombastic music and Green’s complexly delicate drumming are important elements to Modest Mouse’s music, Brock’s unique, delicate, gruff, lispy vocals have come to encapsulate Modest Mouse.

Since 2007’s We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, it’s been an eight year wait for new material and the fans gathered this night at Babeville’s Ashbury Hall were ready for the band’s return. With an extensive discography to cover, Modest Mouse played mostly older fan favorites and the audience sang along to every song, old and new. Modest Mouse also returned with what has now become their live setup mainstay to create the level of noise expected from the seasoned musicians: two drummers (Green and Davey Brozowski), two guitarists (Brock and Jim Fairchild), two keyboardists (Lisa Molinaro and Tom Peloso) and a bassist (Russell Higbee). Unfortunately, Babeville’s sound system could not quite handle the musically stacked band but the sold out audience did not seem to mind as Modest Mouse drowned Ashbury with their sounds for two hours.

The converted church is a picturesque concert venue but too small for Modest Mouse’s fans as the hall was packed to the door with only standing room in the aisles remaining. Quite some time passed before the lights finally dimmed and Modest Mouse slowly emerged and approached their instruments. The crowd cheered at the seven members, yet one person was still missing. Once Brock walked onto the stage the audience exploded, to which Brock raised his cup to the fans. The band started the show with a loud bang, starting with new track “The Tortoise and the Tourist.” The loud number was a great opener as Brock shrieks the melodic chorus “so let’s walk on.” To my surprise, the next song was a personal favorite from popular album Good News for People Who Like Bad News, “Bury Me With It.” Once the first few familiar guitar chords were struck people cheered loudly and again sang along with Brock.

Green and Brozowski’s synchronized drumming was a show in itself as the two balanced drums and percussion and made it all look effortless. Brock took a break between songs to speak with the audience but his words could not be heard too well. After a few more songs, Brock had his mic replaced but it did not improve the quality; nevertheless, the band continued to play and the ecstatic fans continued to dance, sing and cheer them on. At one point, a fan grew so happy that he hopped and skipped up and down the aisle, singing along (his actions could easily be deemed “annoying” in such a small, hot space but his excitement was infectious as some couldn’t help but smile).

And the good spirits continued throughout the night as more than once the crowd filled the hall with their voices, either singing in unison with Brock or creating an unexpected call-and-answer moment with “The World at Large.” At one point Brock accidentally detuned his guitar for “Parting of the Sensory,” and of course it was his guitar that introduced the track. He stopped the band and addressed the crowd as he retuned, “see, what I did there was I was in tune, and I messed it up.” He started the song again and the rest of the night went without a hitch. And after a long night the band treated the Buffalo audience to a five song encore which was a bombastic close with fast, hard hitting and fun songs as “Dashboard” and “The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box.”

A live show that excels just listening to the albums, Modest Mouse still knows how to incite sonic chaos.

***

Setlist:
The Tortoise and the Tourist
Bury Me With It
Dark Center of the Universe
Lampshades On Fire
3rd Planet
This Devil’s Workday
King Rat
Pups to Dust
Doin’ the Cockroach
Wicked Campaign
Parting of the Sensory
Custom Concern
Float On
Of Course We Know
Tiny Cities Made of Ashes
The World at Large

Encore:
Dramamine
Broke
Dashboard
The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box
The Good Times Are Killing Me

Matt & Kim's on FIIRRREE!

Article & Images Published w/ Blurt Magazine

Matt and Kim 8-6-08
Bug Jar • Rochester, NY
By April S. Engram

The patrons of Rochester, NY’s Bug Jar do not often break out into riotous form full of moshing, shoving, hoisting friends on shoulders, jumping on stage and the lead signer leaping into the crowd to dance with fans… but then again it’s not everyday that Matt and Kim takes command of its stage. 

With album number two soon to be released, Matt and Kim still find themselves touring continuously behind their 2006 self titled debut. The duo took a detour from their larger tour with CSS and The Go Team to humble the faithful in Rochester, NY. Opening act Ice Cream Social, a fellow electro-synth based band, filled ears with lyrics such as “We all wear glasses,” and sights such as hot red, tight jeans, a fanny pack and convulsive dancing. Then it was time for Matt and Kim to take control. 
The couple/duo keeps everything simple. The band name, short and sweet – we know who they are. The sounds, alt-punk, dance and rock, are shelled out in short, fast-sometimes lyric-less-tracks. And of course the instruments: just drums and keyboard/synthesizer. The fact that out of such a straightforward equation Matt Johnson (keyboard/vocals) and Kim Schifino (drums) manage to make such a volume of melodious noise is compelling…not to mention the fact that they seem to bear permanent smiles. 

Matt and Kim always makes sure to set up as close as they can to the edge of the stage. And from the audience standpoint, once you are pushed to the brim by ravenous fans, you can easily reach out and give Matt a high five, which one person did. Matt made sure to start the evening off on a dramatic note as he asked for the lights to be turned down, stood atop his stool, asked the crazed crowd to “turn it down a level…just one more” and introduced his band. As if we didn’t know. 
But their humbleness is of course part of the charm. After a quick run through three songs, Matt again chatted us up. After a second request to “turn it down a level… just one more” Matt shared a tale of the band’s trials crossing the border and Kim’s innate uneasiness, and inexplicable nervous laugh when being asked questions (which he of course imitated). 

With everyone in the room already hot and sweaty, Matt decided to slow things down, switch to his keyboard and take a breather. (His keyboard had been malfunctioning.) Yet he did not want to keep the crowd waiting so Matt resorted to using a synth and played the fastest song of the night and that is when the crowd got even nuttier. About six people shoved their way to the front and even I got caught in the riot and found myself collided into and sweated upon mercilessly. By the time that track was over a backup keyboard was making its way to the stage so Kim stood on her stool and took a moment to bid hello to the audience. Her first words: “I don’t really sound like that when I laugh.” 

While she made us laugh with her own tale defending her actions against Matt’s words, the latter set up his keyboard and was raring to go again. The duo plowed through fan favorites, “Yea Yeah,” “5k,” “Silver Tiles,” and “Grand.” About halfway through their set, the sound man requested that Matt open the rear door – and make sure that no one jumped on the stage from outside – since it was so damn hot. Unsuspecting smokers standing just before the door got a nice surprise: a free dance party as they too started dancing. 

However, a Matt and Kim show would not be complete with out audience members leaping on the stage. So when Matt announced that they were going to play the last song of the night, the crowd decided to make it the most memorable song of the evening. Someone from outside jumped on the stage and immediately people inside the club followed suit. As a dozen people shoved and elbowed their way onto the small stage, Matt and Kim ended their last song with a bang and the audience roared. But Matt wasn’t done yet. e immediately asked the DJ to turn up the dance music and jumped beside one delighted fan and began dancing while Kim was chatting away in the back of the room. 
Like a sonic boom, Matt and Kim hit us quickly and fiercely with their tunes. Though the set was short, approximately 35 minutes, it was the “bestest, shortest set” I’ve seen in some time.

Modest Mouse ROCKS Live!

Article & Images Published w/ Blurt Magazine

Modest Mouse did an amazing job live. My first time seeing them live and in action, I want to see them again already! Check out their photoblog run by Photographer Pat Graham. The lucky devil is photo-documenting their tour…jealous! And click above for the full review of their outstanding performance!!

Rocking Portland Duo Helio Sequence

Article and Images Published w/ Filter

The Helio Sequence
Soundlab, Buffalo, NY – 05.25.08
Filter Grade: 89%
by April S. Engram | 05.29.2008

A small crowd gathered in Buffalo’s Soundlab to watch Portland, Oregon’s The Helio Sequence dazzle us with their synth-laced, reverb-drowned tunes and of course the duo delivered. This reviewer salivated for Helio to tread along the East coast after viewing their outstanding performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, thank God they did. Touring endlessly to promote their fourth album Keep Your Eyes Ahead Helio created a great album and it’s easily one of the best released this year. Under indie label giants Sub Pop, the upbeat album is a perfect blend on electronics, airy pop, sporadic, hypnotic drumming and smart lyrics. Those in the crowd this night who were not familiar with the sounds of Helio Sequence did not want the night to end as Brandon Summers (vocals/guitar) and Benjamin Weikel (drums/keyboards/effects) wooed the Buffalo audience.

Everyone lingered at the back of the venue for the opening act to finish their set. Yet, once they were completed Summers and Weikel graced the stage and the crowd swaggered closer; it was apparent who everyone was eager to see. With instruments in place, Weikel cued up the first song of the night on his laptop and Summers followed suit with his airy, echo-y guitar. From the first to last note that was struck, Helio Sequence sounded flawless and the duo sounded like four as they filled the venue with their music. The audience loudly applauded and cheered after each song as the two leapt into the next track, leaving little wasted time between songs.

However, Weikel briefly left the stage so Summers chatted up the crowd with a “filler” tale of their being lost in the Dakota badlands. “I saw my first prairie dog,” Summers admitted as Weikel again sat at his drum kit and began beating his snare. Not knowing where to go next with his story Summers laughed “I’m just basically tying to waste time while my drummer tunes his snare,” before posing to the crowd if anyone had questions about he badlands, he is now an expert. All settled again, they jumped into the next song and again sounded perfect. Weikel was an outstanding on his drums as he methodically banged away at his set and proved to be an eye catcher. One photogenic drummer, Weikel is the man with a thousand faces as he smiles, silently shouts and his hands reach for the heavens while he quickly pummels his set.

About halfway through their set and after another roar of praise and whistles even Summers admitted, “you guys are too nice.” So someone sarcastically shouted “you suck,” “there,” Summers laughed, “now it feels right…everything’s normal again.” What can you say; the crowd simply loved the show but they wanted more stories. Someone from the back of the room shouted “Storytellers,” “like the show,” Summers asked. He obliged and made up a dramatic tale—said with an equally dramatic voice of course—about meeting a woman while staying at the Chelsea Hotel when he was down and out and it was then that he wrote “this song…” and played the beautifully quiet “Shed Your Love.” However, the slower songs did not pervade the night as they played crowd pleasers “Can’t Say No,” “The Captive Mind,” “Hallelujah,” “Lately,” “Don’t Look Away,” and “Harmonica Song” among others. They closed the night with the title track from the new album and withdrew from the stage. Summers and Weikel did not get far as the audience cheered and shouted requests for an encore.

As Weikel sat on the stage to catch his breath, Summers picked up his acoustic and played “Broken Afternoon.” The delighted crowd showed their appreciation but shouted even louder when he reached for his electric guitar and Weikel again took his seat at the drums then they were official down for the evening. A great live act, The Helio Sequence put on a sound performance and rekindled my admiration for duos.

Circus…Nah, We Have British Sea Power

Article and Images Published w/ Filter

British Sea Power, Rosebuds
Tralf Music Hall, Buffalo, NY – 05.17.08
Filter Grade: 92%
by April S. Engram | 05.21.2008

(Gallery Below)

Who knew that a simple venture to see Rosebuds and British Sea Power at Buffalo’s Tralf Music Hall would result in an impromptu circus act including: a rubix cube master, a soccer ball, the tossing of audience members and acrobatics…all future concerts will pale in comparison.

North Carolina’s Rosebuds, Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp, sharpened their pop melodies with their 2007 release Night of the Furies and created an album full of rocking, dance goodies that will make the most uncoordinated soul forget their two left feet and shake their asses. With just a guitar, keyboard and drums the duo (turned trio while touring) managed to create a loud wall of sound. The feel good tunes was just the “pick me up” the evening needed as onlookers sat on the floor in front of the stage and bopped their heads to Rosebud’s infectious, melodic sounds; but never fear, they didn’t stay seated for long. Crisp beckoned everyone to move in closer, get up and dance; the audience did just that.

Rosebuds fans were in the crowd and sang along with Howard and Crisp and danced continuously. Crisp even jumped into the crowd, gave Hamilton of British Sea Power a bear hug, greeted the first couple of rows of people, and returned to her keyboard as Howard looked on and smiled. Their infectious, warm personality and music made the show all the more enjoyable and the fan favorites were “Cemetery Lawns,” Boxcar,” and “Hold Hands and Fight.” For The Rosebuds’ grand finale—where Crisp invited people to jump on stage and dance—was their upbeat “Get Up Get Out.” However, before Rosebuds were through with the song they brought on the stage their merchandise/photographer extraordinaire, Tim the rubix cube master who solved the jumbled puzzle in a few minutes. The crowd cheered, all members of The Rosebuds returned to their instruments and finished in style, chanting the chorus to British Sea Power’s “No Lucifer” to close with a bang. All of this excitement got the crowd ready for British Sea Power.

The crowd packed the front of the stage as the band: Yan (bass, guitar), and Hamilton (bass, guitar) switched between vocals and instruments, Noble (lead guitar), Wood (drums), Abi Fry (viola, backing vocals) and Phil Sumner (cornet, keyboards); walked out, immediately picked up their instruments and with no hesitation leapt into “Atom” from their latest release Do You Like Rock Music?. As fans happily sang along and danced feverishly, the crowd pleaser was the sweeping track “No Lucifer.” A fan shouted to another if he only heard that song this night, he would’ve been satisfied, that’s how good British Sea Power sounded. The band did not walk off the stage for their encore, they plowed through the last tracks, “St. Louis,” “A Rock,” and “Stop Wasting My Time.” And it is with the last song that the circus act came full circle.

As everyone played on, Noble jumped off the stage, stood on a chair in the back of the crowd when Tim of the Rosebuds pulled out a soccer ball and tossed it at Noble who head butted it into the crowd. Then the audience members jumped in, throwing the ball to Noble then Yan who kept the ball afloat. Noble then dropped his guitar on stage, placed his shoes on his hand, jumped back into crowd and proceeded to do a handstand. While Noble was having fun with the audience, all members from the Rosebuds climbed on stage, Crisp grabbed Noble’s guitar, Howard danced on stage and waved a lamp above his head while Hamilton tried to jump on Yan’s shoulders and the two fell to the floor, with Hamilton still playing his bass. But the song was not over yet, Noble grabbed an audience member and carried him to the stage then followed Hamilton’s lead and successfully climbed on the shoulders of Rosebud’s singer Howard. And Yan ended it all with a handstand on stage as Fry quietly put her viola away.

After all of the excitement British Sea Power waved farewell to the ecstatic crowd and closed the night. After it all finally quieted down the sound guy sarcastically shouted, “what, no encore,” how could they top that?

British Sea Power’s Set List:

Atom
Carrion
Oh Larsen B
Down On The Ground
Blackout
Waving Flags
The Great Skua
Canvey island
Lights Out For Darker Skies
Fear of Drowning
A Trip Out
No Lucifer
Remember Me
St. Louis
A Rock
Stop Wasting My Time

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