I did not grow up with “Elvis the Pelvis” in the 50s and I wasn’t alive in the 60s when The Rolling Stones were lighting musical fires in places like The Bull Pub. I was a mere baby when CBGB’s became the US punk headquarters for a generation of disaffected youth in the 70s. And alas I was nowhere NEAR the whiskey and Aquanet soaked Sunset Strip of early 80s LA or that flannel business of apathy and angst Nirvana was involved in Seattle in the early 90s. But I’ve heard enough stories to imagine that watching Starcrawler at The Bottom Of The Hill Saturday night for some has to be what it felt like to be at any one of those music revolutions. It makes you reevaluate everything you thought you knew about what music was supposed to be. To get deeply philosophical for a moment if you were never heavy into the rock/punk music scene or grew up on top 40 rock then seeing Starcrawler is like leaving Plato’s Cave you can never go back to the life you knew before.
And I cannot tell you how relieved I was to see a music act keeping rock dangerous (and scary, and menacing, and threatening). I know, I know… every stage of rock ‘n’ roll from Chuck Berry on up has been dangerous simply because each generation gets it’s own music that causes the adults gasp and proclaim something about, “Back in my day…” or “devil’s music”. And while Starcrawler may not be the band that brings rock back to top 40 they are certainly the band that will make sure rock remains in part the enteral threat that keeps many parents and politicians concerned about that state of our teenagers when it does return.
Starcrawler play greasy. They play loud. They play punk. The play glam, and psyche, and hard fuzzed out straight ahead Deep Purple infused blues-rock. They play Balls. To. The. Wall. And some might even say, being this good this young, they don’t play fair. For only one member, drummer Austin Smith being of drinking age. Rounding it out are lead vocalist Arrow De Wilde who is 18, Henri Cash on guitar is 17, and Tim Franco on bass in 19. And this means they were this rowdy and this put together when they were a lot younger and frankly that is both amazing and scary as hell.
The way lead singer Arrow convulses on stage like her stomach could burst letting the alien go scampering across the floor is just one of many aspects of Starcrawler that keeps you just a little on edge throughout the show. Henri has the baby face of a Chucky doll but instead of killing you with a knife he just beats you into submission with an onslaught of guitar. Tim on bass seemed pretty sedate on Saturday and I don’t know if that was on purpose or due to illness but it just adds to the menace of it all because you wonder WHAT is lurking under that surface. And this all creates a wonderful dichotomy of emotions; you want to cheer for the sheer rock ‘n’ roll of it all (and you do) but you also worry that you might provoke some otherworldly demons to escape or that you might help the band members fast lane to burnout and beat the famed 27 club by 6 years or more.
The next portion of this review is for parents- You know your kids best. But let me say Starcrawler is the kind of band I think most parents definitely don’t want their teens listening to or going to see (with songs like Pussy Tower being explicitly about oral sex) and that is exactly why I think they should listen to them and you as responsible mothers and fathers should take them to their shows. These are teenagers telling their raw truths through the danger of rock and punk. My inner teen self was enthralled and I wished I had a bands this raw and open growing up to relate to (for they are far less snotty than the Green Day of my youth). I personally like that the lyrics are in NO WAY shy or coy or clouding anything in “safe language”. And it is upfront not just lyrically but in the sheer attack from the guitars and drums to the absolute horror theater on stage as Arrow works out some internal violence or tries to control some inner beast that if it escapes could massacre the crowd. Also as parents you want set a music tone for your kids so that they know what music can do and what a live performance can be when it has not been over polished, manicured, and marketed for the mainstream masses safety. But as I said before, you know your kids best.
And I say again rock music at it’s core is dangerous and to be clear this IS NOT a bad thing. Also to be clear when things get this kind of dangerous and this authentic it is not for everybody. But I was pleased to see plenty of young people (with parents) who were clearly at their first live show. And watching them standing so close to the stage getting swept up on the mosh pit for the first time… It’s like taking the training wheels off your younger sisters bike and watching her wobble down the street. You are both a little nervous but ultimately they push on through.
And the audience sure did push through for a little over an hour of thrashing and pogoing about in a frenzy. For most Starcrawler songs come in under 3 minutes; they get to the point and then get on with it. And the band NEVER lets up. Even when they slow the tempo down it the music is still filled with the same sneering brooding menace, Henri wielding his guitar as a musical weapon while Arrows body contorts as she occasionally performs self-strangulation with the mic cord. There was no pause in the war on the audience, not even for applause (who has time for that anyway). At the end there was even fake blood. But long before that Arrow, in a twitching lurch of a moment, spat all over the audience to their delight. I was reminded of the Alice Cooper chicken story (goggle it) or Ozzy snorting a line of ants (goggle that too), the stuff of rock mythology.
As Marty Stuart said recently about country music, “The most outlaw thing you can do in Nashville right now is play country music”. And the same is true for rock n roll across the US. So in a world where radio singles seem focus grouped down to the millimeter and all the newest entertainment feels like rehashed stale ideas or the leftover trash from past eras it so refreshing to see something old made new and vital and present and in the moment. I’ve seen Journey, Def Leppard, The Rolling Stones, and Foreigner but by the time I got the to seeimg them they were legacy acts on stadium tours who had every second of the game mapped out. This makes Starcrawler all the more amazing because despite how carnal and dark and unpolished the show felt, it was a very polished kick your ass rock carnival. And being in such a tight and contained space like The Bottom of the Hill was a major plus. All that energy would’ve drifted off into the clouds in a wide open stadium and been lost.
But I’ve seen live footage of them at various sizes of venues and Starcrawler, no matter the venue, seem intent on dragging rock n roll kicking and screaming away from the safes spaces of Cold Play, 5 Seconds Of Summer, Paramore, U2 The Jonas Brothers and whatever other hit making or arena rock acts have dotted the charts or stadiums in the last 15-20 years. I just hope they do not burn bright and quickly fade away.
But that is one of the known perils of playing great dirty, sweaty, loud, terrifying, and dangerous rock ‘n’ roll in a great, dirty sweaty, loud, terrifying rock ‘n’ roll band… you live on the edge. A lot of great musicians have lived there and fallen off but the best, if only for a fleeting few years, bring the audience with them to the edge. And whether Starcrawler falls to soon is yet to be seen but they took it to the edge last night and we all held on and survived one of the best rock performances I think I may ever witness.
Opening Act Kills Birds & Sour Widows:
It would not be fair to ignore the opening act Kill Birds for in their brief set they brought their own brand of a tight menacing rock tone. Nina Ljeti conjures up so many of the great front women that have paved the way; Wendy O. Williams, Kim Shattuck, Nina Hagen, Patti Smith… And the music also has hallmarks of of a myriad of seminal bands; Avengers, The Breeders, Sonic Youth, The Runaways, The Pixies, The Donnas and on and on… And to draw such a range of names of out my head is a testament to the band and it’s music. For it sounds like all those and more but like none of them at the same time. And this leaves you with something new and something definitively authentic to the band. No other band could do the music they do which, to short change it, I would define as post-grunge-punk but also slightly Kate Bush-Bjork-Tori Amos arty (but with grittier vocals). There was no way they would be able to top the Starcrawler show but I must give props when due for they held their own in unique fashion while they had the stage. PS: I just learned Kim Gordon approves and so do I.
Sour Widows began the night performing what is described as “bedroom rock” or “diary rock” they refereed to themselves as Emo, which brought of images of A-frame hair cuts and eyeliner. They are local to the bay area, which I totally dig even if the music is not my thing. But I know the music is somebody’s thing though because all those who came early to see them clearly enjoyed what was laid down. And the band seemed genuinely surprised to have such a turn out. But all the blaze that came after reduced to ash what came before so I couldn’t really hold onto anything from Sour Widows set.
WHAT YOU WITNESSED OR WHAT YOU MISSED:
Love’s Come Again
Let Her Be
I Love LA
Pet Semetary (Ramones cover)
Bet My Brains
Full Of Pride
She Gets Around
Watching a possessed Arrow run by me down the hall, out the door, and up the stairs covered in fake blood and her ripped white see through zombie skirt.