‘You’re all in the band’: a night with Chris Wilson and Planet Earth

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It’s been a long time since I saw a show at Muse Music down in Provo. It was refreshing to be back there after so long and especially since I’ve been covering festivals and big ticket shows lately. It was nice to return to a more intimate space, especially one as raw as Muse. It has a punk-rock flavor to it, like we’re watching a show in an abandoned subway. I didn’t realize how much I had missed it until I was there Saturday night to watch Chris Wilson and Planet Earth perform.


One of the reasons why I love venues like Muse so much is because places like that are often the best places to find something fresh. I’m not knocking on the big artists who play major venues—most musicians start in these little places and as they grow their sound grows with them, that’s that nature of the beast and there’s nothing wrong with that. But sometimes I need to hear something unlike anything I’ve heard before. I need to see new performers that can offer their twist. I go to places like Muse to find that, to fall in love again. Thankfully, Chris Wilson and Planet Earth gave me the opportunity.


It’s not often that one sees a duo—or a sometimes trio including Johnny, their percussionist—that features guitar and saxophone in this scene. Most of the live shows I’ve watched that featured the sax were in smoke filled jazz clubs with red and blue lights playing across the ceiling above the otherwise dimly-lit bar. The few other shows I’ve seen, the sax was treated as a novelty item—which sometimes worked, but most times it didn’t.


And so, with saxophonist Joe Cardillo front and center, shoulder-to-shoulder with frontman and guitarist Chris Wilson, I wanted to see where they were going. From their energetic entrance from the back of the club—cutting a line through the audience from the soundboard to the stage as they played their first song of the night—I was ready to go along for the ride and see where they took me.


Cardillo’s wailing saxophone was reminiscent of Alto Reed’s work on Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” or Raphael Ravencroft’s famous riff on Gerry Rafferty’s chart-topper “Baker Street.” And Wilson’s work, lyrically and instrumentally, had this earthy, grassroots feel to the electric-folk sound. It was heartfelt, optimistic, even uplifting; suggestive of groups like Good Old War or The Lumineers—a comparison made obvious by their boot-stomping cover of the ubiquitous hit “Ho Hey.”


But to compare Planet Earth to these other groups is to be serving an injustice. At Saturday’s show, I watched a sum that was much greater than its parts. It was something that, while drawing from different musical disciplines and inspirations, was new and exciting to listen to and watch. It was fresh and I loved it for daring to be that different.


I respect musicians that can give everything they have to a performance, and these guys certainly did that. With only something to gain from it, they put themselves completely out there and it paid off. It didn’t just pay off for the audience either, I could tell that Wilson and Cardillo were having as much fun as everybody else—something that’s all too rare in performances.


Their music has this fire, this raw soul and passion that’s electric. The crowd of only 50 or so was one of the most alive audiences I’ve seen in a while, and that’s all because of the showmanship, the stage presence, the charisma and—ultimately—the talent of these artists. It doesn’t always happen that a band’s energy will catch fire with the audience, but Chris Wilson and Planet Earth ignited the room.


“You’re all in the band” Wilson informed the audience, which vigorously kept the beat by clapping, stomping, and occasionally hollering along with the music. And lucky for the Provo scene, Chris Wilson and Planet Earth will be back mid-November after they couch-surf their way through their current tour which is set to resume after they finish some recordings back in California.


When they do come back around though, be there. That’s my sincere recommendation for any music fan who wants to experience something that hasn’t been seen yet. Join the band and just clap your hands if you don’t know the words. After the show, head to the merch table, say hello to some of the most gracious musicians in the business, pick up their EP and start practicing the words for the next time Chris Wilson and Planet Earth blow through the Valley.