Wednesday, 16 December 2009

692 STELLASTARR*, The Morning After Girls, Oxford Zodiac, Thursday 23 February 2006

It's been snowing all day but luckily didn't settle, so we were all up for this gig from NYC's Stellastarr*, a band who followed up the undoubted promise of a debut album by delivering 2005's most consistently excellent CD in their sophomore effort, "Harmonies For The Haunted". We'd picked said CD up on our honeymoon last October, but it was only just getting a UK release, hence this tour! So Tim accompanied Rachel and myself to Oxford, missing first band The Heights and heading straight to the bar, which was very empty at this shamefully sparsely populated venue. Oxford; Stellastarr* are great, don't you know that?

Main support The Morning After Girls, on at 8.10 for this early curfew gig, were reasonable, throwing atmospheric shoegazey shapes, but without any tunes to rub together, all this shimmering ephemeral guitar noise seemed a little aimless. Come back when you've mastered this verse-chorus-verse-chorus shtick, boys...

I'd announced my intention of starting a Stellastarr* moshpit (by myself if necessary!) to Tim and Rach in the bar, so we had a wander down the front for the entrance of the real NYC rock royalty, on at 9. They wandered coolly on in that "just took a wrong turn on the way to the bar" way, that the coolest bands seem to have, then casually plugged in and kicked off with the haunting, brooding "Lost In Time", the new CD opener. This was super-fine and emotive, despite Shaun's voice sounding a little ragged.

After this moody opener, however, the set turned into a full-on rock show, raw, ragged and savagely elemental. The tuneful precision of their CDs was gleefully abandoned in favour of hard rocking, riff-tastic balls-out versions of their superbly crafted and catchy songs. This was the type of set which American Hi-Fi do so supremely - powerful, visceral, thrashy, far from precise and occasionally sloppy, with bum notes aplenty, but when it's this much fun, who cares, right kids?

Stellastarr*s music evokes the 80's rock landscape with its big sweeping tunes, intricate guitar patterns, and haunting vocals from this young man Shaun Christiansen, possessor of a voice old way beyond his years, deep and weighty. They'd fit perfectly alongside the likes of Echo And The Bunnymen or Modern English, but nowadays share peer influences with The Stills and Interpol, bands using the 80's rockist template as inspiration rather than photocopy. The dark, brooding nature of their new material was evident in superbly rocking versions of "Damn This Foolish Heart" and "Sweet Troubled Soul", whilst "On My On" featured a raw, bleeding portrayal of life after a bitter break-up, with a tortured vocal to match from Shaun. "My Coco", their bouncy, euphoric and best-known number, actually saw a mosh (other than myself!) develop, and an unhinged "Pulp Song" brought a ragged, breathtaking set to a close.

Encores "Somewhere Across Forever" and the frantic "Jenny" closed an excellent hour. Ragged as hell but not lacking in entertainment for that, Stellastarr* rocked the house tonight!

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