The members of Phantom Planet weren't even born when Elvis Costello released his first album in 1977. Now they're sharing a stage together.
At first glance, the pairing of 20-something rockers Phantom Planet with legendary music man Costello may seem odd. But their performance Sunday night at the Mayan Theatre proved that Phantom Planet is the perfect complement to Costello, who is a favorite of Phantom Planet lead singer Alex Greenwald, and one of the band's biggest musical influences.
Phantom Planet, who has been compared to Radiohead, the Beatles and U2, came together eight years ago, but only recently started touring heavily.
They kicked off Sunday's show with Greenwald peering out from behind his mess of shaggy, indie, rocker-boy hair as he started into "Always On My Mind" from their sophomore album, The Guest. The song's rich guitar work blends the talents of Greenwald, Jacques Brautbar and Darren Robinson, creating an impressive, lush guitar sound.
Highlights of Phantom Planet's opening set included "Nobody's Fault," an upbeat, poppy song that pays homage to Costello as it lifts riffs from classic Costello tunes and "California," the first single from The Guest. The infectious opening hook of "California" that is played by a piano on the album was replaced by a strumming guitar, but was nonetheless enjoyable.
They finished their set with "All Over Again," and the band really let loose. Greenwald practically plunged into the audience as he leapt off the stage and jammed on his guitar. Jason Schwartzman shined during a drum solo, and was joined by Brautbar and then Greenwald. The trio intensely pounded on the drums with the force of six drumsticks before Greenwald flung the sticks into the audience.
The crowd was stoic, but seemed to enjoy Phantom Planet's no-nonsense style of rock.
The audience was definitely a change from the typical turnout at a Phantom Planet show, a fact not lost on the band. In an interview with the San Jose Mercury News, bassist Sam Farrar said that playing with Costello has been "strange but amazing. We just came off a tour doing clubs for 400 screaming teenagers. Now we're in the midst of a very much more adult audience, who are more musical and just sit in their seats the whole time watching you."
As Costello took the stage, his appearance was in stark contrast to the previous band. While Phantom Planet wore thrift store threads and had shaggy hair draping past their ears, Costello was classic and clean-cut in a black suit and his timeless black horn-rimmed glasses.
His stage demeanor was far more laid back than Phantom Planet, who were bouncing all over the place, but his music was electrifying and got the crowd moving.
He played a mix of songs spanning his multi-decade career, and showcased his talent as a versatile musician who can jump back and forth from rocking electric guitar riffs to smooth acoustic guitar melodies. "I Hope You're Happy Now" opened the show, followed by "Doll Revolution" from the new album. Costello played several songs from the album When I Was Cruel including "Spooky Girlfriend: "Tart" and "Episode of Blonde."
Costello finished the show with "Uncomplicated" and went into not one, not two, but three encores.
The second encore was by far the best, featuring a hammy rendition of 'Alibi: which segued into "Lipstick Vogue," "Detectives" and ended with a hot version of "Pump It Up" that had the entire crowd on their feet dancing.
But a band should always leave a crowd wanting more — and with a third encore, Costello had outstayed his welcome.
The last set included three mellow jazzy songs, "Almost Blue," "15 Petals" and "I Want You," all of which were too slow and really sucked the energy out of the enthusiastic crowd that had just been breaking a sweat from dancing.
The audience, a mix of late 40-somethings with receding hairlines and hip 20-somethings with too much hair, fully enjoyed the show, clapping and singing along with several songs.
Even after a two-and-a-half hour set and three encores, the house was clamoring for more as the house lights came back on.
Costello is a veritable superstar of modern rock. Phantom Planet is not there yet, but the music press has talked a lot lately about them being on the verge of stardom.
They may not be superstars yet, and they may never be, but for the guys of Phantom Planet, touring with Elvis Costello represents a milestone — sharing the stage with an idol, an influence and a music legend. Who needs stardom?