"Holy shit!" are the first spoken words out of Phantom Planet's lead singer Alex Greenwald's mouth when he takes in the roar of the packed Metro crowd. "You guys are fucking awesome!" he continues. It seems to be the sentiment of the night.
With that declaration, the band launches into "In Our Darkest Hour". Phantom Planet are touring for their second full length, The Guest. Their debut CD, Phantom Planet is Missing, came out in 1998 when the band were only teenagers. Now in their ripe old early twenties, these boys have already been around the block. Fame, money, Bill Murray.
Let me explain. In between their last record and now, funny things have happened. Lead singer/guitarist Greenwald has modeled for The Gap and landed acting roles, like his supporting turn in the heralded indie film Donnie Darko. Perhaps, even more famously, drummer Jason Schwartzman played the lead role of Max Fischer in the cult smash film Rushmore, alongside comic Bill Murray. Schwartzman has an ever-growing list of film roles as well. But, remember, it's all about the music. Right, boys? Scrambling onto the cramped stage of this legendary, Chicago rock club, Hollywood doesn't seem to have gone to their head . . . yet. Schwartzman, all scruffy cuteness in a white T-shirt, drums his heart out. His constant headbanging shows signs of a true devotion to the art form. The band is tight and capable, like a step up from the Weezer-worshiping college band next door. All the usual goofy elements of young indie boys are present though: drum riser jumping, crowd surfing, water bottle spraying, inter-band horseplay and tomfoolery. But, remember, it's all about the music. Right, boys?
Funny enough, it really is. California power pop harmonies (in . . . ahem . . . "California"), crunchy Elvis Costello-esque new wave ("Nobody's Fault") and Radiohead-lite drone pop (the aforementioned ". . . Darkest Hour") all make appearances here. Though the genres may vary, they're savvy enough to find the common elements in all those styles and combine them. The sound is punchy and a little more raw and jangly than the slicked up keyboard and electronica flourishes present on The Guest. A live keyboardist may have added another texture to the sound, but probably would take away from the three guitarists interplay. Phantom Planet know how to amp it up with the feedback and the scream-o-meter at the Metro seems to prove that.
Yes, most of the screams in the crowd come from the high school and college age girls. Who wouldn't ogle the young men of Phantom Planet? Decked out in their thrift store best, trying not to notice the gaggle of photographers who pace the footlights of the stage, they still give out good face. The band is from Hollywood, remember? Yet, they have a lot more to give then the doubters may think.
"We're selling our CD's here tonight," dashing beanpole Greenwald says between songs, adjusting his too-tight Salvation Army sweater. "If you buy one, we'll autograph it for you after the show. And if you buy two . . . we'll . . . I'll personally make-out with you." The crowd roars. He's got them in the palm of his hand. Phantom Planet could be *NSYNC for the Ghost World set.
Guitarist Ben Monder has created a quiet stunner: one disc of inventive solo guitar arrangements of standards, and then a second disc for his trio playing pop hits of the '60s and '70s in wonderful ways.