Tuesday 27 October 2009

Phantogram / Quad Throw Salchow / Grasscut at The Fly -25 October 2009

I have been looking forward to tonight for around three years.

It was back in late 2006, early 2007 (I think) that I first came across a band called Charlie Everywhere. I think that it may have been the result of a random add request on Myspace. It was an awful band name. But I fell in love with Joshua Carter and Sarah Barthel and I fell hard.
Since then I have kept tabs on the duo from Saratoga Springs, New York, downloading their tracks as they became available, buying their T shirt and keeping the flame alive in my heart. When they changed their name to the only marginally less awful ‘Phantogram’, I was relieved, bought the merchandise again and wondered if they would ever tour over here…

So I am here on a Sunday night in an under-populated venue called The Fly located in New Oxford Street. I have cajoled a number of my more forbearing friends to come along too. I have fingers crossed and hope for the best.

There are three acts tonight and we start with the fascinating if rather unfocussed retro-futurism of Grasscut. These are two guys (Andrew and Marcus) who wear matching suits and glasses and who entertain us with electronic glitches and skronks, samples of church bells and a rocking electric double bass. There are occasional Hot Chip –y moments, and perhaps an affinity with similar English electronic eccentrics Flotation Toy Warning or Hallmark. It’s the sound of the future engineered to mimic post war austerity. It’s an ambitious aim, and the duo can’t quite carry it off – they don’t have the songs as yet and there are moments when the technology seems to be playing the band rather than the other way around. Interesting stuff nonetheless.
Next up we have the trancey motorik beats of Quad Throw Salchow. A mysterious three piece, they create room for themselves to perform, with JG hunched behind a workbench laden with electronic gear to one side, bassist K pounding out rhythms in prime Peter Hook mode on the other. Centre stage is singer O, who croons in parallel with the music rather than following the tunes. Her eyes are closed and she twists from side to side, her arms outstretched in a pose of crucifixion.

These songs are persistent, nagging washes of sound, propelled by the bass and the electric tics of the machinery. They work through repetition and epic span. This band know a good groove when they hit one and extend themselves to heroic length – the final track must last at least fifteen to twenty minutes. As with all such music, whether they succeed or fail depends upon whether they can entice the audience to come along for the ride. I enjoy them a lot, but a quick poll amongst my mates afterwards indicates no more than a fifty percent hit rate.

And finally I am in a room watching Phantogram. And they are more wonderful than I had dared to hope.

Sarah is standing behind a selection of electronic equipment that appears to be half state of the art and half something cobbled together out of an old VCR. Joshua is feeding his guitar through a vast array of effects pedals. They start with “As Far As I Can See” with its sampled brass section and they don’t look back.

They are much more hard edged and dynamic than their recorded works would indicate, Sarah jolting as though shot through with an electric current, her eyes closed and her head thrown back in a delightful smile that highlights the wonders of American dentistry. Josh appears frozen by a frantic white strobe light, occasionally whirling his instrument in stabs of sonic violence.

The buzzing hum of ‘Running From The Cops’, with its peculiar effect that makes Josh’s voice sound as though he is drowning makes way for long time favourite ‘Mouthful Of Diamonds’ which is as sweet as a summer evening . This music is just fantastic. I could say that this is the sound that School Of Seven Bells promised, and ultimately failed to deliver, but such comparisons sell Phantogram short.

The set draws heavily from debut album/compilation Eyelid Movies, which I commend to you all.

This is the first night of a whistle-stop European tour and they are going to make friends wherever they go. Hurry back guys.

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