What happens when you put together a tour featuring skate punk veterans, a synth duo, and an indie pop band? Usually, madness, but on the Spring Is Sprung tour, it somehow works. All three acts — Half the Animal, Great Good Fine Ok, and Smallpools — brought their own versions of indie pop to Phoenix’s Crescent Ballroom and raised the bar on how the perfect summer Saturday night should feel.
Speaking of “Saturday Night,” Half the Animal kicked off the show by beginning their set a half hour earlier than scheduled. Vocalist Chase Johnson wasted no time belting out the band’s handful of originals, which sound totally polished in their recorded versions. However, the group’s southern California punk roots shine on stage, where they perform with a raw, give-no-f’s energy that inspired them to pursue music in the first place.
The rock-centric riffs soon gave way to a futuristic reverb and a scene reminiscent of The Future Council in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. (Refresh your memory here.) Jon Sandler, frontman of Great Good Fine Ok, appeared in a long, shimmering gold sequin coat that dazzled the crowd. He was a human disco ball up there casting specks of golden light around the whole venue, especially while jumping around to electro-dance tracks like “Get Away” and “Too Much to Handle.”
Sandler’s falsetto can only be understood in a live context; It’s strong but soft in the right moments, and it’s downright angelic. Bring in drummer Danny Wolf, keyboardist Luke Moellman, and guitarist Carey Clayton, and the music bursts from the stage and swells to every corner.
Though the group has a full catalog of their own songs, the iconic “P.Y.T.” was their chosen cover. And later on, Wolf crafted a drum solo like nothing we see in modern music. These 80s throwback moments were a big part of the nostalgia factor in the group’s noted “nostalgia for the future” sound.
After such a strong performance, there was no wondering why there was so much anticipation from the audience for the final act.
It all came to a head during the first notes of “Over & Over,” one of Smallpools’ very first songs that cemented them into the sunshine indie scene. Shrill screams erupted, phones dominated the crowdscape, and the bouncing commenced almost immediately.
Smallpools barely let us catch our breath as they jumped from track to track, starting with old favorites from their very first synth-friendly EP and working up to their brand new melodic pop song, “Stumblin’ Home.” The record was released on Friday, so it had the freshness and extra excitement of a song that hasn’t been played live too many times yet.
The set also showed the growth of the band (and the growth of frontman Sean Scanlon’s lion mane!) as they’ve experimented with new elements and genre influences over the years. It’s even evident switching from the in-your-face “No Story Time” to the more subtle “DJs & Porches.” The group has even dabbled in hip hop lately with a cover of The Weeknd’s “Pray for Me,” and there was a quick interlude of Kanye’s “Runaway” during their Saturday night performance. There’s no telling what they’ll do next.
As per usual, Sean told the story of the band’s early days when they would Google themselves (he got some whoops from longtime fans) and discovered their band name was rather controversial because there was public uproar about wild animals being kept in small pools. So, they wrote “Killer Whales” and now perform it during every set after launching a blow up orca pool toy into the crowd.
“Dreaming” might be the Smallpools track, and certainly the one that brought them fame in 2013, but you could argue that the whole night was full of the same energy as this closing song. And despite sore feet and breathlessness from the non-stop dance party, one Smallpools lyric sums up how it felt to be there:
“I want to live this night over and over.”
Writer’s note: Special thanks to Beau Kuther for authorizing my photo pass!