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Seeing Stellastarr*

One of the activities that Lauren and I have tried to partake in since the earliest times in our relationship is going to see live music. This was infinitely harder in the South Bay area, but is, in Austin, slightly more difficult than finding a bowl of queso – that is, not at all.

An act who we really liked and who we saw in San Francisco was Stellastarr*, a New York-based band that rose up rapidly with The Strokes, Interpol, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Stellastarr* lack the dourness and monotonality of Interpol or the conscious Brooklyn-tough of the Strokes, but channel a poppy, betimes disco-affected sound with a quixotic vocals lain upon a sonic elephant in the china shop of guitar noise (What hath Sonic Youth wrought?). It’s actually pretty danceable too.

As icing on the cake, the show was at The Parish, my favorite venue in Austin. It’s upstairs, intimate, the bar staff are actually competent and friendly, and the sound system is excellent.

I’ve been into Stellstarr* since their first release just seemed like something worth grabbing when I was at the Amoeba over on Haight Street, so it’s been a lot of fun to watch their evolution.

The thing that I love about Stellstarr* is the way that their primary vocalists, Shawn and Amanda, have voices that engage in some sort of complimentary and very epic sonic tug of war. Shawn has a histrionic, epileptically-dashed wail that can throw the listener down the stairs with some melancholy themes; however at that exact moment, Amanda’s voice comes in with a lilting, rising, hopeful progression such that the listener, as he falls backwards over the stairs, catches a glimpse of an angel, and hangs there, suspended, between the dialectic of these two modes with Arthur’s thundering percussion and churning seas of Michael’s guitar noise beneath him. It’s really quite something live, I assure you.

An Example

Not only did the headliners perform a great show, but their warm-up acts were also great. New Hampshires “Wild Light” showed excellent musicianship as they all swapped keyboard / bass / and guitar duties and all took turns carrying the vocal burden. I even turned to Lauren at some point and asserted that “I was feelin' it.” I did think that for such a solid and well-rehearsed band their song (ahem) “California on My Mind” was needlessly puerile.

Also opening were “Experimental Aircraft” who did a very nice shoegaze + blips and blurts. A bit like Ride meets Stereolab in parts, but very much with a strong injection of Joy Division throughout.

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