Portland’s Starfucker have been touring constantly since South By Southwest in support of their sophomore album Reptilians, a danceable synthpop meditation on death and the afterlife. Despite being thematically grim, Reptilians is one of the better releases this year, combining pulse-pounding synth riffs with murmured vocals and plucked guitars, and it translates well in a live setting. Despite myriad sound and equipment malfunctions, Starfucker still managed to bring the house down.
The band took the stage in a timely fashion after openers Champagne Champagne got the crowd moving, but the fifteen minute gap between sets came and went while the boys fiddled with instruments and looked around in confusion for the sound personnel. Finally, spoken-word clips of British philosopher Alan Watts made the speakers rumble, and the band opened with a frenetic version of “Hungry Ghost.” It turned out to be a false start, however, as drummer Keil Corcoran managed to break a snare halfway through the track. Mishap seems to be the general tone of Starfucker’s current tour: multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Ryan Biornstad was jailed on a bogus jaywalking charge at SXSW, the band’s tour van broke down, prompting them to get to Houston via tow truck, and keyboard casualties have been tallied at three. But all of this didn’t stop the ‘fuckers from dolling themselves up in copious amounts of makeup and taking the stage with smiles for a screaming all-ages crowd last Saturday.
Amidst offers of tequila and rum, the sold-out Vera Project featured a bevy of underagers in various states of intoxication, and while a few wayward parents hung to the back of the room, the majority of attendees pressed themselves against the stage. Temperatures soared and clothes dampened as the night went on, the crowd growing only rowdier and more ecstatic as the band roared through new cuts like “Mystery Cloud,” “Bury Us Alive,” and “Astoria” before indulging in fan favorites “Boy Toy,” “Isabella of Castile,” and their infamous cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” The latter brought forth some of the more inspired shout-alongs, as the entire mass of tweenagers seemed inclined to jump and scream out of tune. This is the main difference between Starfucker’s recorded output and their live delivery - seeming slowdancers become raucous groundshakers when surrounded by adoring fans. Lead single “Julius” has a muttered chorus on the LP, but when it comes time for the breakdown of “Picture your body, hearing your voice, fall into your arms,” a mass of people jumping and screaming along changes the experience somewhat.
There’s something revelatory about Starfucker’s ever-simplistic brand of electropop. It’s intelligent and engaging, even outside of a dimly lit stage covered in swirling red and green pinpricks of light, a factor that lends itself to replayability. The songs work themselves into your consciousness and fuse with your being until the lyrics take on personal meaning, giving even more of an imperative to yell along with the band. Crowd interaction doesn’t concern Starfucker much - aside from the occasional apologies during an equipment malfunction and an old-school Mariners hat that was tossed into the crowd, the band was content to perform their music and let the crowd ride out the tidal waves of joy. Near the end of the set, Biornstad eventually began dancing, and as disco-tastic set closer “Quality Time” rolled around, he leapt into the crowd to join the legions of crowd-surfers that had already come and gone.
For the bouncing encore, Champagne Champagne returned, and together the two groups performed “Dragon Monkey” - a track from Starfucker’s hip-hop mixtape - before a so-called “Starfucker Champagne” song which consisted of the guys yelling “Champagne” repeatedly for the verses, and “Starfucker” over and over for the thrashing chorus. Champagne Champagne’s Pearl Dragon leaned into and walked over the crowd while Biornstad showcased some of his more elegant dance moves, and by the end, the giddy but exhausted crowd raised their arms in delight.
Stumbling out of the venue, the drenched masses were breathless, tired, and desperate for more. The few overagers may have chanced into a ticket for the quartet’s Crocodile show this past Tuesday, but for most of the crowd, the experience would have to tide them over until the next time Starfucker is in town. The question of the night wasn’t, “Have you seen them before?” but “When was the last time you saw them?” With an avid fanbase like this, it’s no wonder Starfucker’s been selling out shows up and down each coast, and everywhere in between. Soon, the band will go on an extended European tour, furthering their inevitable takeover of the world.
See all the photos, and bigger, at KEXP’s Flickr.