Review / photos: Phantogram, Bad Things show off sleek rock-star chops at the Ritz Ybor in Tampma
You’ve got to feel for Shaun White.
There he was on Sunday at the Ritz Ybor, all of 150 pounds, red hair combed perfectly, nervously working out rock songs, firing off guitar solos and occasional harmonizing with his bandmates in Bad Things. Nothing spellbinding. Certainly not boring, though, and it’s easy to see how White and company managed to play Lollapalooza last year.
Still, stares fell on the 27-year-old American snowboarding legend affectionately called the Flying Tomato. And that wasn’t fair.
It wasn’t fair because he clearly doesn’t intend to steal attention, but lucky for White -- who endured a “We love you Shaun!” chant the way a 14-year-old endures a parent’s embarrassing outburst -- it would all be an afterthought as soon as the road crew came on to break down Bad Things' stage (note: White, just like every other up and coming musician, packs up his own gear).
Yes, it was all just a distraction keeping a sold-out crowd away from their heroine, Sarah Barthel, who would eventually lead her band, Phantogram, through a 16-song, 80-minute set that was slowed only by vocals that occasionally got lost in the mix. Barthel recently has been romantically linked to White, but it’s her connection with bandmate Josh Carter that trumps all.
The pair are childhood friends who bonded over a love of hip hop, David Bowie and the Cocteau Twins. Every shred of their sonic makeup came through at the Ritz, where songs like Bad Dreams tested subwoofers as if it was a rap show (A$AP Rocky’s Shabba did play over the PA during intermission). And while Carter sang on Nothing But Trouble, Turning Into Stone and Running From The Cops, the show belonged to Barthel, who managed to handle keys and vocals all while stalking the stage with her effortless charisma and charm on full display.
Her soft, mascara war-painted face is framed by the fiercest of bobs. She rocks blingy gold chains better than most emcees, and when she’s thrashing amidst an air raid’s worth of blinking strobes and arena-ready lights, this much is very clear: Barthel is the rock star that everyone who has ever started a band wants to be.
She commanded the crowd on The Day You Died and Don’t Move found her interchanging between a sultry side and another that looked into the crowd with childlike innocence. She literally shimmered on the downtempo Bill Murray where the room faded to black only to be be re-illuminated in gold light thanks in part to spotlights reflecting off the sequined cape Barthel had covered up with.
The set’s highlight came as the crowd was whipped into a four-minute frenzy on Fall In Love from Phantogram’s brand new LP, Voices. The song’s hard drops, synthesized strings, and off-time samples were dutifully recreated thanks to an expanded band, and Barthel was quick to cut off audience applause so she could give credit where it was due.
“Thank you Josh,” she said, catching her breath, “for making such a dope beat.” It was in that moment that Phantogram’s best trait was on full display.
The duo have come a long way since Ybor last saw them opening for The Glitch Mob at Czar’s old haunts in 2011, but the band -- in spite of all their glimmer, gloss, style, quiet confidence and vaunted live show -- still exude a blue-collar, work hard, boast never, attitude. For chrissake, Barthel’s mom was even onstage before the show, handing crew what were presumably completed setlists.
If Phantogram keeps this whole being-humble, down-to-earth, and appreciative-of-everyone thing up, then they’re going to have to find a bigger room to pack their fans into the next time around.
-- Ray Roa, tbt*