I last saw The Phantom Band in May this year at Tan Hill Inn where they drank prodigiously and didn’t play a single new song. Impressive and disappointing respectively. Touring in support of new album ‘The Wants’ tonight, I knew new songs were unavoidable but was surprised to see singer Rick Anthony swigging a pint of water. Wait a minute – he was simply alternating this with single malt whisky (and the bottle would later get passed into the crowd. Aberlour if you’re interested).
However having a drink on or off stage is not what is remarkable about The Phantom Band. It is how six unlikely looking lads – here with new boy Ian on drums – create such powerful rhythmic music: layered and intense, idiosyncratic but undoubtedly ‘pop’. Ok and how they keep it so precise with a few drinks in the belly too.
After a cautious opening pair of songs, ‘Folk Song Oblivion’ from 2009’s Checkmate Savage was the moment when both band and audience hit their stride – “you’re buoyant tonight” said Rick praising the crowd. Nothing has changed in the band’s formula or approach but the new face on drums has brought a real – loud – insistent driving force behind the inventive rhythms. Very rock. New songs ‘Into The Corn’ and ‘A Glamour’ were highlights – not feeling ‘new’ or ‘finding their feet’ at all but just as precise and passionate as older tunes. These longer songs enable The Phantom Band to show their skills best over the gently progressive gear-changes. And this was really apparent on the eight-minute ‘The None of One’ (listed as ‘Man Cities’ on the set-list?) which moves from banjo and crooning meander in first half, to twitchy beats and abrasive guitars in the second half as Rick Anthony howls about burning. Astonishing stuff. As was the encore of math-pop instrumental 'Crocodile'.
I’m sure at one point singer Rick said “Nice one us” in response to a rowdy and rapturous reception to a song finishing. Nice One Them indeed. For a band recently back from a transatlantic tour and straight into the UK leg they looked and sounded fit, lean and eager. We could argue all night about whether ‘The Wants’ can match ‘Checkmate Savage’ – it certainly comes close - but at tonight’s packed Deaf Institute gig The Phantom Band live matched and exceeded all expectations. And I will raise a drink to that.
The Set List:
NB. 'Mr Natural' was not played and the encore - not listed - was 'Crocodile'