REVIEW: Phantogram at Summerfest

As we headed into night ten of Summerfest, a big crowd flooded the grounds to enjoy the festival during some of the best weather of the 2018 run. A good portion of that crowd flocked to the Miller Lite Oasis around 10:00 for Phantogram’s headlining set. The band hasn’t released a proper album since 2016’s “Three”, but fans came out to catch their first show at Summerfest (and in Milwaukee) in four years.

It’s important to remember that this is night ten of a eleven-night festival. There wasn’t a ton of fanfare leading up to the band’s appearance on stage. A thumping kickdrum brought the group on, and they immediately launched into “Three” cut “You’re Mine”. It was enough to get heads bobbing, but not a ton of reaction from the Oasis crowd. The crowd came to life over the next couple of songs, but it felt like there was a less than ideal start to the set from the band, who seemed like they couldn’t exactly get the energy up for the beginning of their set on stage, either. However, that changed by the time that the hard hitting bass of “Run Run Blood” came in. Singer Sarah Barthel shed a shiny cape that she came on stage with, and then it felt like the show really kicked into gear.

The set opened on material from “Three” primarily, but as things moved on, the band got further into their catalog. “Mouthful of Diamonds”, which came about halfway through the set, got the first big reaction from the crowd. Barthel explained that it was the first song that her and bandmate Josh Carter ever wrote. She handled much of the stage communication for the night, which was usually limited to statements like “you guys are fucking awesome” or a brief monologue that the fans are why bands keep coming back to Summerfest. While endearing, it was pretty much standard fare for stage banter.

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The latter half of the show seemed to be when things really started to click for both Phantogram and the crowd at the Miller Lite Oasis. The set wound down with a trio of the band’s biggest hits, “Fall In Love, “When I’m Small”, and “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore”. Cheers finally came from the crowd, which set up the night’s big moment. Barthel explained that Milwaukee was “so fucking awesome that we need to bring out our other band, Big Grams”, which elicited the night’s biggest reaction. It seemed so obvious in hindsight; Big Boi of Outkast was the opener for The Weeknd at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater, and they were in the same place on the same night, why wouldn’t Big Boi come out? However, the cameo caught most of the Oasis off guard, and a lively party to the Skrillex-assisted track “Drum Machine” closed out the night.

While it ended on a big moment, it seemed like much of Phantogram’s set was spent trying to elicit some sort of reaction from the Miller Lite Oasis crowd. Small pockets of fans exerted themselves, but the majority of the crowd seemed burnt out on the festival by the time that Phantogram even made it to the stage. At no fault to the band themselves, the show seemed to fall flat. Luckily, however, all it needed was a special one-off moment to make the entire night memorable.

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