Phantogram blaze through the shadows at The Bellwether opening

LA-based trip-hop-meets-alt rock band Phantogram had the honor of premiering as the opening night act, selling out downtown LA’s The Bellwether. The upstate New York natives have not played Los Angeles in a while and the fans were eager to get close to duo’s energy and new tunes while absorbing the sights and sounds of the new music club from Teragram Presents and Another Planet Entertainment. The audience nearly packed the floor and balcony during the opening set from LA-based ill peach who also effortlessly blend alt rock with elements of electro. The sightlines were clean for all and the lighting design was rather stunning, with emerald green covering the wall curtains and a cool blue on the front panels and enveloping the stage and buzzing crowd. Anyone with pink hair, colorful t-shirts or neon nails was highlighted in the room, with passerby making their way to and from the swanky bar, restaurant and rooftop area.

ill peach were the Guinea pigs of the night, taking The Bellwether stage for the first time ever, with their own hybrid sound and they simply impressed. Band members included vocalist Jess Corazza and synth/keyboard player Pat Morrissey, joined by bass player Jesse Schuster. They kicked off with rhythmic, bass-heavy, dark dream-pop earworm “Dandelion” and upon finishing, Morrissey shouted, “What the fuck is up LA?! Well, we officially blessed this stage,” followed by a celebratory applause. Glitchy, hip-hoppy “Comatose” found Corazza jumping on stage, contrasted with “GUM” which followed, a 90s-flavored grunge-pop tune with a standout guitar break from Schuster and a breathy vocal that complemented one another. Punky, angsty 2023 track “BLAH BLAH BLAH” had Corazza mouthing the song title with her hand while dancing in place in her black and red skirt and white sleeveless top. An unrecognizable song title (“Blue Mare”?) was announced and Corazza flipped her head back and forth rapidly to the beat, later shaking off an almost-stumble over a speaker, encouraging the crowd to clap during the electronic/hip-hop hybrid with a truly ethereal vocal. ill peach also brought the moody vibes on “Hold On,” with orange hues cascading over the band, later wrapping up with a pair of alt rock bangers.

Phantogram‘s Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter took the stage after the lights went black, lit up abruptly again with purple erupting over the stage as pre-show drumbeats hit more rapidly. The duo took the stage with opening song “You’re Mine,” with Barthel decked in duds that included a silver jacket, red pants and boots while Josh sported a black tee and cap with his guitar. She sang, he rapped and both were flooded with strobe lights, but you could still see the musicians, who were joined by two others on synth and drums. “Black Out Days” had the crowd wild from the opening beat, with Barthel and Carter harmonizing under red lights with white strobe accents; she danced and worked the stage while he played the guitar bent over in moments, truly feeling their big 2014 hit. Electro hints drove the alt-rock tune “Run Run Blood,” with the duo face-to-face for a moment under flashing reds, and Josh rapping at the mic stand with guitar in hand. They sang together while the drums sounded like ammunition and Barthel’s hand was up for a moment followed by applause. On “Don’t Move,” Barthel played guitar alongside Carter on his instrument, facing one another once again, as twinkling oranges with tinges of yellow peeked through.

Yellow strands of light blasted The Bellwether on the head-bopper “Pedestal,” with Barthel hitting the keys mid-song and the fans eating it up. Her red hair created a sharp contrast to the lighting and she mused, “Everything is fine! LA! Bellwether!” She yelled this out briefly during a hypnotic moment in the instrumental of the pretty, synthy tune. “This is fucking monumental.” The mystery of “Same Old Blues” was in effect with an otherworldly vocal from Barthel and the catchy production churning out one of the best of the night. They were fittingly awash in blue on stage, with the crowd clapping along as the song got a little dirty, swampy (and shall we say dubsteppy —but just a little).

Pulsing green strobes cranked to the drumbeats and Barthel’s falsetto took over the glitchy “Bad Dreams” as she oohed, sliding the mic stand back and forth like a boss. It was followed by bright reds, glistening guitars and a soft vocal on “Mouthful of Diamonds,” which fans sang along to gently. Carter was center stage on the drum pad machine for “Fall In Love,” while the crowd was loving the moment. The glitch-hop production was exciting noise to hear live, while blue and magenta alternated over the stage. Massive cheers followed the song and Barthel gave a shout out to Carter, adding that he’s been her best friend since high school. “We are fucking so happy to be here, obviously true fucking music fans. It’s an honor to be the first.”

Barthel took the keys again for “Cruel World,” which starts off as a whispered ballad that shoots off like a bomb with hot beats, and Carter was back on the finger pads. Barthel belted, hand and mic up and then she smashed her locks of red hair down a few times emphatically. Spinning starburst lights appeared for “Howling At The Moon,” with the fans into this one as Barthel was particularly expressive with her hands, clapping in moments and getting the crowd to follow suit. “This is a new song, released three years ago,” shared Barthel and then Phantogram played “Mister Impossible,” with Barthel stepping over to the finger pads for some horn effects and starting the mischievous vocals, alternating with her bandmate. “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore” was the perfect set closer, equal parts pretty and exhilarating at the same time. The production was killer live and Barthel smashed the vocal with her heavenly falsetto. 

Phantogram’s encore gave the duo a moment to shout out longtime friends Jonathon Mooney on synth and Chris Carhart on drums. Barthel talked about their New York origins and how they live in Los Angeles, and she opened up about her sister losing her life to suicide and how she’s now able to use her words. “It’s OK to not be OK. Talk to somebody if you feel sad, anybody.” And she dedicated 2016 track “Answer” to her sister. Both Phantogram members were on guitar, some light and bouncy drums took hold while Barthel harmonized with herself beautifully on the track, followed by Carter taking a heartfelt second verse. The delicate ballad felt prayerlike, contrasted with a pretty epic instrumental that was all the feels. Oohs from Barthel were echoed by the crowd on “When I’m Small,” and the band did a second take after a speaker or tuning fumble. It was no big deal and Phantogram showcased once again how they blend the hard and soft so masterfully, while a guy crowd surfed at the end. You can’t launch a historic night at The Bellwether without some guy crowd surfing to Phantogram.

Words by Michael Menachem
Photos by Justin Higuchi