NEW YORK — Who needs connections anyway? Despite having a model front man and movie star drummer, Phantom Planet has gained critical kudos more for its poppy, dance-inducing tunes than for who they know.
“We want to make sure people don’t judge us on any of the other stuff before they hear the music,” says lead singer Alex Greenwald. “They can think whatever they want afterward.”
The “other stuff” he alludes to are the musical Gap commercials he fronted a few summers ago singing “Dress You Up” and “Mellow Yellow,” and his acting turn in “Donnie Darko.” Then there are the family ties and big screen credits of drummer Jason Schwartzman: the nephew of Francis Ford Coppola, son of Talia Shire, cousin of Nicolas Cage, star of “Rushmore” and the current “CQ.”
Greenwald and Schwartzman are joined in the band by guitarists Jacques Brautbar and Darren Robinson and bassist Sam Farrar. Tonight, these twentysomething Angelenos open for Incubus at Madison Square Garden in what Greenwald says is “the culmination of our efforts.”
“We were in the San Francisco airport getting security checked for the seventh time, strip-searched and so depressed,” he remembers. “And then we get a call that we’re gonna play MSG and we’re like, `f— yeah!”‘
Phantom Planet has been selling out small but respected venues for months, but “now it’s moving to 5,000, 9,000, 10,000 people,” Greenwald says with a little wonder. Their shows, whether big or small, attract legions of pretty young things. (Greenwald may be the model, but the entire band is easy on the eyes.) “Girls love to scream. Guys like to push each other,” he says, while downplaying the heartthrob appeal. “I think I’d be weirded out by having a lot of screaming girls if there weren’t screaming guys to accompany them.” On stage, the boys rock out in almost neck-breaking form. The video for their hit “California,” from the album “The Guest,” is testament, catching them in all their tripping, stomping, bloodied-finger insanity. “I swear I’m the luckiest man in the entire world,” Greenwald says, recalling one time when he climbed the lighting rig and held on with one hand while singing the last chorus. Losing his grip, he fell to the stage — unharmed. “I’m not religious in any way, but I knelt down and made the sign of the cross after that.
“We have to make our day worthwhile for 30 minutes on stage,” he says, since the band members spend much of their days getting to venues. “We’re like monkeys burst out of cages. We want to do a good show for peopleand we’re going to, dammit.”