It started in drag and it ended in a dance contest. Admittedly, not the most surprising sequence of events notoriously shock-retardant San Francisco’s ever witnessed. But consider that we are not talking about a club in the Castro but Potrero’s beloved Bottom of the Hill and you might have a different image in your mind. Clad in semi-ironic women’s wear complete with costume jewelry, the Portland, Oregon foursome turned up the beat and the heat as they shook and shimmied their way through Tuesday’s show with electropop beats, poise, and unparalleled panache. If you had thought that electronica was all nerds adept at Mac-made arrangements and/or DJ’s with a tendency to torture with trance, think again. These kids were the antithesis of the type of genre typically dominated by losers with laptops, breaking out a full setup of guitars, turntables, dual drum kits, and keys.
Opening with “Boy Toy” and closing with a purely instrumental number, the indie house band swept through almost all of the material off both LPs (their eponymous debut in 2008 and 2009’s Jupiter) like a hurricane, and, in so doing, brought a hefty dose of humanity to their oft-discriminated niche. Their cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” worked shockingly well—not least of all because they dressed the part—and “Medicine” proved an effective exercise in sad lyrics layered over a synth-driven sound while remaining undeniably danceable. But beyond dancing, these guys were equally fun to just watch, from the androgyny straight through to their never-ending energy.
When it comes to pure stage presence, however, all band members are not created equal. Though Josh Hodges sings and serves as Starfucker’s chief songwriter, under the bright lights it’s Ryan Biorstad that steals the show, and not only because of his puppy-dog eyes. Wearing a white wife beater and jeans over his wiry frame, his clothing would have been standard enough concert fare—if he hadn’t added a hair net, rhinestone earrings each the size of unshelled macadamias, and hot pink lipstick to his ensemble. Manning various instruments and his own vocal cords, he drew us voyeurs’ gazes to him like flies to honey, and when finally his long tousled locks shook free of his lunch lady’s trademark cap, he could easily have passed for the doppelganger of latter-day like-maned musicians Peter Frampton or Leif Garrett. Let’s just say, the outfit seemed to fit with his falsetto.
As for the onlookers, the entire front section seemed reserved for those practicing their interpretive dance routines, but even the most enthusiastic rumpshaker couldn’t compete with Biornstad. If it seemed as though the boys had been giving an electric performance, we didn’t know what Biornstad had in store for as a final farewell: namely, an all-out audition for So You Think You Can Dance. Based on those moves, you’d think he wasn’t a skinny white guy from the Pacific Northwest. (I wonder if he’s friends with JT.) Then, in lieu of an encore, he cued up Salt ‘n Pepa’s “Push It” somewhere in his bag of tricks and sashayed into the slightly dazed crowd, who might still have been expecting additional tunes if they hadn’t been so sated from the night’s performance—and then went over to man the merch table. The sheer accessibility of the band is no less than refreshing in an industry full of stuck-up pricks.
Before you say all bands are nice before they make it big, know that Starfucker is to public radio as Voldemort is to Harry Potter because they planned it that way. To avoid “success” as they used to define it. But if the name they chose succeeded in being mainstream-repellant, the fans that flocked to the show in spite of—or on account of—their refusal to be radio-friendly were all the more ardent in their adoration. At least we know they aren’t likely to sell out anytime soon, since they specifically chose their name as a roadblock to making it to the music major league.
For all of their artistic integrity, I’m not sure how long—or how much—their “improper” moniker will hold them back. As Puritanical as our country’s roots may be, remember, it’s not like Nirvana’s “Rape Me” and NIN’s “I Want to Fuck You Like an Animal” didn’t get any airtime. If they simply want to have fun making music while not worrying about the future, fine—but good luck keeping the fans at bay along the way with shows like that.