Starfucker Channels Disco-Pop Forerunners at Rickshaw Stop

Categories: Last Night
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Starfucker at Rickshaw Stop last night.
Starfucker
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
March 9, 2011
@ Rickshaw Stop

Better than:
Naming a child with an obscenity.

Ladies, I'd like to introduce your Passion Pit/MGMT stand-ins. Scream softly, please. But listen up: don't tell Mom and Dad what you're sneaking through the back door. They've got a naughty name and lipstick on their faces. They're kind of weird. They're from Portland -- yeesh.

But wait, who gives a star-f#*@? No -- wait, we'll say it -- Starfucker. Say it with us, cussless cowards of the world!

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Wednesday night at Rickshaw the members of Starfucker literally pushed all the right buttons on their tricked-out synths, sugary guitars, and dueling drums, soaring through a brisk but sweaty set of disco pop. This stuff could easily find its way to a radio station near you, if only F-bomb-involving band names were kosher in such places.

But we can have that discussion later. This band is the property of the subterranean pop scene for now, having just released an ambitious but accessible album titled Reptilian. They'll hit SXSW next week and who knows, maybe the world thereafter, as their forerunners did.

Starfucker is the child of Colin Meloy/Chuck Klosterman look-alike Joshua Hodges, a mild-mannered, multi-talented musician. He warily leads his four bandmates while filling the roles of synth wizard, auxiliary drummer, rhythm guitarist, and vocalist.

He kept a very watchful eye on bandmate Ryan Biornstad (guitar, keyboard, vocals, turntables) last night, as we all did. Biornstad appeared to have either gotten a hold of some very good shit, or he generally basks in oddball theatrics. He gazed wonderously into the rafters, he gently but absent-mindedly fingered his lips, he painted his face with red lipstick, he futilely attempted several crowd surfs, and successfully joined the dance party on the floor of the Rickshaw toward the end of the set, desperate to seize a moment of crowd connectivity in this, the band's breakout moment. He's the fuck-star, by default.

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The most striking difference between Starfucker and many of its peers lies in a melting, nearly apathetic vocal approach. Biornstad and Hodges keep things understated in their tag-teamed singing moments, neither in search of any lead vocalist tag. Which is fine, because this band is clear-eyed and full-hearted in its layered, fuzz-synth dealings. "Hungry Ghost" is all instrumental -- aside from a book-on-tape voice-over of a man talking about death's role in a rewarding life (a thread throughout Reptilians). It's possibly the band's best track to date, short but utterly sublime.

"Mona Vegas" was a more typical example of what Starfucker is trying to accomplish, reflective and shoegaze-y, something M83 might have made. Older tracks, from debut album Starfucker, released under the moniker STRFKR, offered bouncier and more straightforward pop rock pleasures. "Boy Toy" was one, which, when requested and dutifully played, gave the crowd an early-onset hot flash. So, too, did a cover of Cyndi Lauper's 1983 "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," prefaced by the winking warning that some in the crowd "might be too young" for the song.

Some of Starfucker's numbers have a decidedly light-hearted, playful sensibility, and remnants of The Flaming Lips permeated the collective memory during "Born," the first encore of the night and also the first time Hodges worked an acoustic guitar (a rarity, he disclosed to us).

It was all just another reminder that what's in a name is sometimes just the name and how it sounds. Nothing foul or derogatory going on here --quite the opposite, actually.

Opener Unknown Mortal Orchestra showed up with a better-late-than-later attitude after missing Tuesday night's scheduled opening gig at the Independent. The band's international status -- Portland by way of Auckland, New Zealand -- can probably be blamed for that. This is a rock-subgenre buffet approach, dabbling in twee, alt-Americana, punk and even moments of light death metal.

"I want to be high on a mountainside" went one of its refrains, backed appropriately by a spacey psych jam, with heavily distorted and pedal-ed guitars swirling about. The guitarist sings, but they all back up the vocals at one point or another in a scratchy collection of voices.

Their most interesting blend was the amped-up twee-folk-leaning songs, which somehow spoke a bit louder than reversions back to their punkier, hard rockin' roots.

Critic's Notebook

Overheard in crowd: "Are you in the band?" Directed at me. Maybe I should try out. Maybe I, too, can star-fuck.

Also: Was that Kermit the Frog during set breaks? Or is that Danielson? Nope, it was the Muppets.

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Follow us on Twitter @SFAllShookDown, follow Chris Trenchard @ChrisTrenchard, and like us at Facebook.com/SFAllShookDown.

Location Info

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Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, San Francisco, CA

Category: Music

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Cool Guy Spotter
Cool Guy Spotter

You tooooootally look like you're in a band because you are so undeniably cool and hip. You don't look like a 20 pound overweight, pompous ass in a way too tight t-shirt at all, just a super sweet rockstar. That's why you totally heard that during the show and definitely didn't make that up.

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