Unknown Mortal Orchestra
March 9, 2011
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!
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.
"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.
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.