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I. The Perils Of *dom
Somewhere between stellastarr*‘s self-titled semibreakthrough and Civilized, its latest, self-released effort, the New York band went from benign and enjoyable indie bubblegum to disposable Guitar Hero rock. That much was clear, anyway, at the group’s packed show at Rock & Roll Hotel Friday with Wild Light and The Postmarks. Here is a band that long has inspired easy dismissal, and after three albums seems to have ironed out all idiosyncrasy. The crowd—rollicking, fist-pumping, high-fiving—couldn’t have asked for anything more.
I don’t mean to sound flip. In 2003, stellastarr*’s debut was derivative, sometimes involving stuff that—with its blatant debt to Talking Heads and Pixies—arrived during exactly the right moment of post-punk and college-rock revival. That album’s singles, “Jenny” and “My Coco,” were mainstays of my iPod for months. So I was somewhat nonplussed when stellastarr*’s hour-plus set Friday produced no Proustian flashback to younger days.
In older numbers, frontman Shawn Christensen resurrected the yodeled take on Frank Black‘s barking by which stellastarr* first made its bones, but he slipped comfortably into a nasal, pop-punk whine for the group’s recent material. Civilized was a perfect descriptor. Bland, power-pop hyperbole—the stuff of soaring choruses, bah-bah refrains and meaningless couplets—proved the order of the night.
In other words: I should have taken my own advice and seen Lovvers.
II. I Saw Rock ‘N’ Roll’s Future And It Is Fucked
If the headliner inspired few deep thoughts, then Wild Light, the groomed New Hampshire band who played second but took nearly as much time arranging its gear, was infuriating. On record, a shimmering California vibe dominates proceedings (although one song repeats “fuck California” with grating self-congratulation), but live it was a more bicoastal affair: the pleadingness of latter-day emo; New Romantic Killers-style synthscapes; the E-Street Band‘s large sound/salt-of-the-earth dichotomy. “Earnest and ambitious” reads the group’s promotional material, which, in a pejorative sense, is exactly on point. Vocals reverberated; synths swooped; glasses clanged; girls screamed (already the young band has groupies). By my count, only one song didn’t end in an arena-ready cadenza.
(Reverb obfuscated most of the lyrics; those that penetrated were postcard aphorisms and milquetoast ramblings about small towns and The Road.)
I’m not sure that Wild Light has the hooks to land it on, say, Grey’s Anatomy (though Rolling Stone begs to differ), but its members certainly have the Abercrombie looks. Guitarist Jordan Alexander The Rebel Heartthrob was all tattoo sleeves, skinny jeans and earnestness-with-an-attitude; his warbling, plaintive vocals by turns suggested All-American Rejects‘ emo-pop and Bon Jovi‘s heartland-derived pinup rock. For his songs, multi-instrumentalist Timothy Kyle The Blue-Collar Auteur was serious in black, and affected a crooning Brandon Flowers baritone. Drummer Seth Kasper The Drummer was the least photogenic, though there was much to admire in his Spectorian (or Max Weinberg-ish?) flourishes. And Seth Pitman The Blond One, also a multi-instrumentalist, telegraphed condescension with each banter. At one point, he thanked The Postmarks—whom he said he “had never heard of” before the tour—for opening, and encouraged the crowd to “get their CD or something.” Well, thanks, dude.
III. A Farewell To Barbs
Miami’s The Postmarks didn’t match the crowd-bating energy of their tourmates, but for all their sophistipop iciness, they had the most heart. Often, the five-piece complemented chanteuse Tim Yehezkely’s girly deadpan with a chunky, robotic post-shoegaze; softer songs balanced finicky tweeness with infectious, Motownesque bass hooks. It’s no surprise or accident that Ivy‘s Andy Chase gave The Postmarks their first career boost; Yehezkely & Co. share Ivy’s polish, understatement and erudition.
Then again, The Postmarks’ set closer, a cover of The Jesus and Mary Chain‘s “Nine Million Rainy Days,” was anything but polite: In it, Yehezkely was less Liz Phair than Bilinda Butcher, an ambient angel amid the violent, echoing maelstrom.
Photo by Benjamin R. Freed