5 Dec 2009: Spaceland Los Angeles
Great music is like great sex: arousing, harmonious, riotous, sensual, emotional … And it takes a truly skilled lover (or band) to evoke all these elements in a single act of consummation. Both leave you begging for more, even after you’ve been more than amply satiated. You longingly count down the days until your next bedroom rendezvous, or opportunity to see them in concert.
New Yorkers Stellastarr* are the Casanovas of indie rock. Their set lists are figuratively orgasmic: starting out gently, coaxing ears into relaxation. Then midway, they buck and thrust with wild aplomb. Then…wham! The end delivers a quaking satisfaction. The experience concludes with audience and performer alike drenched in sweat and smiles.
The foreplay, or, opening band, was divine. The esoteric, seven-piece Transfer fired on all the right synapses and rose to the occasion. Singer/guitarist Matt Molarius kept things nice and unpredictable, whether he was crooning into old-fashioned Strokes-like mics or beating his heaving chest with a tambourine. The orgy of warm, woodsy sounds was rounded out by keys, trumpets and violins (not to mention a hearty splash of Pabst Blue Ribbon being gulped by the musicians. It’s Love Potion No. 9 for hipsters).
Stellastarr*’s seduction of the Spaceland crowd began coy. Front man Shawn Christensen went the deceivingly humble route and would preface a song or two with “We’ll see how this one works out.” The trick turned out delicious and worked out just as he had planned all along. There was the creeping rapture of the introduction, “Winter Song”, pulsating with the coquettish backing vocals of bassist Amanda Tannen (a vision in polka dots and ponytail). Christensen continued to play the tease, bending lower and lower with each song until he found himself on his knees for the throbbing behemoth “Somewhere Across Forever” off their 2003 self-titled album.
It only got sexier from there. Drummer Arthur Kremer liberated himself from his shirt for “Sweet Troubled Soul”, an angular barnburner that had the fans salivating. A chorus of “Oh-Ohs” bellowed, and was the ideal segue into “Freak Out” off 2009’s Civilized, a tune utterly appropriate given the enlivened state of things. It was the point of no return. Hedonism had taken over. “That’s what I’m talking about, son!” yelled an amorous concertgoer, as Christensen, Tannen and guitarist Michael Jurin harmonized and Kremer leaped sky-high.
A key component to connecting with a partner, or an audience, is to relate to them. And so, Christensen confided, “The first venue we ever played in Los Angeles was here.” Kremer expounded, “Whenever we come to Los Angeles, we always feel like we’re at home.” Familiarity leads to vulnerability, which, in this case, led to a soul-bearing version of the ballad “On My Own” from Harmonies for the Haunted. With unwavering empathy now in the bag, the group shifted into a thunderous climax for the rest of the night. They pummeled with “Stay Entertained” (best known as a Universal Studios jingle) and upped the ecstasy with the poppy recent single “Graffiti Eyes”. Christensen’s warbling aped a young David Byrne, but put a sincere spin on that elder statesman’s suaveness.
The foursome gave the riled-up crowd a reprieve during the encore, awash with languid instrumentals. It was a mere precursor to the intense flood of gaiety that the last tune of the night promised: the deliberate strains of “My Coco” perked everyone up, and sent Spaceland into one final frenzy. There was a paroxysm of pogo and dissonant screams, with everyone enthralled and completely pleased.
Real sexiness stems from natural gifts and prowess, not bawdiness. Stellastarr* just radiates effortlessly with that appeal.