“You have to listen to this band.” Those might not have been her exact words – it’s been 14 years, so I don’t quite remember – but Mel said something along those lines the first time she ever told me about Phantom Planet.
But I do remember exactly where I was the first time I listened to the band that still holds the number one spot in my heart as best live band I’ve ever seen. (Even though it’s been seven years since they called it quits.)
I was a senior in high school, and Mel had come with me to the journalism room at the end of the school day. It was deadline week, so I had to stay late to work on layouts, edits and all the other putting-the-school-paper-to-bed duties my role as editor-in-chief called for. “You have to listen to them,” she may-have said as she handed me the orange CD. I popped it into the journalism room computer, let it load on the media player and hit play.
From the opening jangling notes of the piano in “California”, I was hooked. At this point in my life as a music fan I was resting comfortably between the world of Top 40 radio and the last gasp of oldies radio stations when it came to my music consumption. Phantom Planet sounded completely – and delightfully – different from anything I had ever listened to before.
They quickly became my first “underground” band I ever loved. (By the way, if you don’t know Phantom Planet, I can also guarantee you’ll recognize them immediately in these opening credits of an early 00s TV show…)
How it got started
For as much as I loved the poppy songs on their sophomore record, The Guest, I didn’t fall deeply, madly in love with Phantom Planet until their self-titled album was released in 2004 – a good two years after I first them. The music was more laden with killer bass lines, and the lyrics were more moody and mysterious. They became a little less sunshine-y pop band from LA, a little more in-your-face rock band.
The song that finally did it for me was “1st Things 1st“. And looking back now, it was downright embarrassing how I used to listen to it over and over and over again. The groovy little bass line, the catchy guitar hook, the double clap at the end of the chorus – I was obsessed with it all. And the obsession only grew after I saw them live for the first time in November 2003.
Phantom Planet was also a member of the first string of bands I ever hung around outside a tour bus for, waiting to get show posters and liner notes signed. The first time I met lead singer Alex Greenwald I can’t remember what I said, but it was met with such a bemused expression…it took me awhile to figure out if he didn’t understood what I had said…or if he was just that much smarter than me and could see me for exactly who I was after a single statement. (For the record, about 99.9% sure it was the later…)
Why I love the music
Phantom Planet made this beautiful transition from pop to rock over their band’s lifetime. And with it came a whole lot of live energy. The first time I ever saw them was at Trees in Dallas. I was front row and from the opening song of the show, I was sucked in. They played with such force that you couldn’t help but be swept up in the music – a feeling that was even better from the front row. It felt like just us and the band.
And every time I saw them live after that – always from the front row – it just got better. The energy level was elevated. The room became electric. Nothing in my life could possibly be better than standing before a stage with the promise of Alex, Darren, Sam and Jeff giving it their all. I love the way Darren would get lost in his guitar playing, how every beat Jeff hit on his drum set resonated through my whole body. I loved watching Sam’s fast fingers fly across his bass – to this day, he’s still my favorite bassist. And oh, the way Alex could command a room. I’ve never seen another lead singer with his stage presence.
They were also mine and mine alone. When I’d gush about their music to friends and classmates, I was always met with blank stares until I pointed to “the theme song from The O.C.” I’ll never forget one of their last shows I saw at UCO in Edmond, OK. When Alex announced they were going to play a “deep cut” and launched into “Jabberjaw”, a smile or two was thrown my way as all four band members took notice of me – probably the lone girl at that show – singing along to every last word like my life depended on it. While it annoyed me from time to time that more people didn’t know their music, I also loved having this one little band that was just mine to love. It made them special.
Why Phantom Planet makes me…me
They were also the first band I fell in love with strictly for the music. While I grew to adore each band member for various, good groupie-esque reasons (amazing talent, wit and humor, etc.), I never once had a crush on any of them the way I had with previous bands. (That brief crush on Johnny Rzeznik was rough, man.)
Phantom Planet was my gateway into a whole new world of music that wasn’t played on the radio and solely existed on the Internet for me to find. Listening to Phantom Planet led to Rooney which led to Maroon 5 just before they blew up which led to The Like and Rachael Yamagata and so many more. And all of those led to me relying less on the radio for new music discovery and more on myself.
They’re the band that set me down the path to becoming the music lover I am today.
My favorite Phantom Planet tunes:
Who was your first band that opened up a new world of music to you?
Whether it was a band that led you to discovering a whole slew of other bands or just a step into a different direction I’d love to hear your stories. Leave them below in the comments!
Still in love with the best effing band in the world,