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Live & Local

Live & Local: The Phantomatics

Photo: Steven Gilmore, License: N/A

Steven Gilmore

The Phantomatics
Fri, Jan 13
The Thirsty Camel

Should artists be curators? That’s what I kept asking myself as I watched The Phantomatics peform. The band started in 2008 precisely because, “There really wasn’t anything like this in town,” according to guitarist David “Phantomatic” Jimenez. I'm not sure they're necessarily addressing a need though. Jimenez, bassist Gareth Farr, and drummer Joe Ortiz understand the formula: wet reverb guitars played in that mischievous style over speedy 4/4 rhythm takes one right to ’61 Technicolor California. Incorporate some old movie samples and you’ve got their “spooky surf.”

It’s a subtle difference from straight surf, but it was apparent in opener “Hearse Surfin.” About two minutes in, Farr took the lead from Jimenez, playing a gnarly, not-quite-distorted melody that gave the track a manacing punk edge. Meanwhile, Farr ran samples of howling wind and wolves through his loop pedal during the breakdown of “The Good, The Bad and The Mummy.” And “Go Phantomatics Go” featured maniacal laughter closer to ’60s horror than “Thriller”-era Vincent Price. The crowning moment was “Death Waltz in Bm,” which found Jimenez flexing some veiny solo chops over a slow-burning, doo-wop groove. It was ironically their most intense, cathartic moment because most of their other music is so damn fast. Sprinkled within the set were museum-ready covers of classics by The Astronauts (“Surf Party”), The Ventures (“Lullaby of the Leaves”), and Link Wray (“Rumble”).

Which brings us to the big problem with The Phantomatics: The uninitiated likely won’t be able to distinguish the originals from the covers, but the hip will tip their hat, knowingly. And while that’s nice, it begs the question: why write music that almost perfectly copies another time and place? To keep interest alive? As an exercise before moving on to more creative pastures? To indulge one’s own artistic interests (perish the thought)? The Phantomatics rock the surf in lockstep and get the Saytown hips a shakin’. But period tribute endeavors like this come dangerously close to coming off as mere covers band territory (it actually sounds like a lot more work). In a city that doesn’t do enough to support its arts community, I worry The Phantomatics aren’t getting the most for their time from the audience. Here’s to hoping they stretch their musical reach.

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