In many ways, The Phantom Band are an archetypal Scottish band. The six-piece Glasgow group showcase a lot of elements common amongst bands from the region: a history of windswept folk, blustery rock, bluesy downtrodden guitars (there are three of those instruments on stage in Whelan’s) and a willingness to experiment beyond the established norm with wood-block xylophones and a not-out-of-place thread of electronics are all at the heart of what they do.
They’re aptly-named too. Their sound shapeshifts around all of the aforementioned touchstones tonight. After two underrated and impressive albums, Checkmate Savage and The Wants, The Phantom Band take all these strands live, and almost pull it off. Like their namesake, they can be hard to pin down and the quality dips and peaks throughout the gig.
Live, it’s apparent that The Phantom Band have some fantastic songs, some good ones and then, not bad ones per se, but slightly unfocused ones that don’t help the mood and structure of a gig. Their gruff and gutsy vocals are a highlight. Singer Rick Anthony’s voice is dominant with an all-encompassing Scottish folk drawl, while the band as a whole are perfectly able to transfer deep masculine baritone harmonies to the audience with raw power.
When these hefty and heaving sounds are paired with unique electronic bleeps, driving rock rhythms, arpeggiated keyboards and a guitarist with an impressive stylus-inputted guitar pedal thingamabob, the band have significant power – like on The Wants tracks ‘O’, ‘A Glamour’ and ‘Everybody Knows It’s True’. Elsewhere, it’s the bittersweet that wins out with songs like ‘Folk Song Oblivion’ and ‘Left Hand Wave’. In between, the band can end up with a sound that is akin to The Beta Band without any bite.
The whole gig threatens to be a bit anti-climatic but folky ballad ‘Come Away In The Dark’ and Checkmate Savage track ‘Crocodile’, a near-eight minute Kraut-rock-inspired cut that reminds of us of a Primal Scream jam session, lifts proceedings towards the end. It’s a hodge-podge affair with some wonderful moments but not nearly enough. The Phantom Band remain as elusive as their name suggests.
Photos: Kieran Frost
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