Anything for a Weird Life

In Praise of Phantomime

As you may have suspected or noticed, I go to shows all the time. At these shows, there is an unspoken standard of what should happen and when. A band will usually say we’ve got two left” now. They used to say this is our last song.” I notice these small shifts over time and take note of them, a ripple in show customs. What I really appreciate is when an act or performer takes audacious leaps, shakes up what is possible and does something on stage that reconsiders what is possible at an underground music show.

Such is the case with Phantomime.

photo by Julianne Hamiltonphoto by Julianne Hamilton

I was familiar with Amanda Schmidt’s creative output before the pandemic lockdowns and was excited when I caught wind of a new project. Not only had Amanda been a key coordinator of the two Fields Fests, but was also a gifted singer, composer and performer. What would this new project bring?

What I wasn’t expecting was something that would warp the gravity of the venue, a meticulously constructed sound-world in which Phantomime would perform and inhabit an invisible alternate reality. No instruments present, just the silent performer and their self-constructed audio soundtrack on the house PA. And… just when you think you are getting the hang of what is occurring, Phantomime will break their silence and sing.

It takes a great degree of courage to bring something like this into the space of the show. Although there has been a tradition of such non-standard show programming in Baltimore, especially during the heyday of Wham City, that pendulum has swung back in the direction of mostly traditional musical performance. Amanda’s commitment to what they are doing, and the intensity and conviction of the performance makes it riveting, a tightrope act.

Whenever a thunder-crack like this occurs, it opens the door to other things, fresh air let into the underground and the grind of band set / band set / band set / band set interrupted. Suddenly, the limits of what can happen on stage are limitless, new possibilities from other traditions able to come in and dialogue with what has become standard. It is important in any art form.

Where will this lead? I am excited to find out and excited not to know. The recent Phantomime performances are something to be seen and experienced. Yes, you can see videos of Phantomime performances online, and you should check them out, but being there, live and direct, is something special and galvanizing.

And that is why I still go to shows. The musicians and artists of the underground continue to push on what is possible and make new things that delight and inspire me. Check out Phantomime and know that the future remains unwritten. Saturday night remains a potential portal to other realms.

Tim Kabara

IG: @kim_tabara

Julianne Hamilton

Website: www.juliannehamilton.com

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