Austin trio Ringo Deathstarr (what a name!) are no re-inventers of the proverbial wheel. But really, they don’t need to be. Their reverb-soaked brand of rock ‘n’ roll was conceived decades prior by pioneering shoe-gazers like the Jesus and Mary Chain and Cocteau Twins. But these influences are in no way disguised. Translation: they’ve got a lead foot on that effects pedal and a wont for constructing vast walls of nearly deafening sound.
Sure they’ve been hyped through SXSW and have toured with indie royalty such as the Dandy Warhols and the Raveonettes, but that’s only a small testament to their level of skill. At the base of it all, what makes this group worth a damn is their special caliber of performance, one that quite possibly left Saturday night Hexagon-goers with a new favorite band.
Apparently shoegaze and psychedelia was the name of the game because all three openers drew from the same hazy musical vein. Minneapolis’s own Chatham Rise initiated the evening, projecting more of a jam-bend aesthetic in the realm of ethereal rock. Their time onstage was like a symphony comprising several movements, everything adhering together with the superglue of resounding power chord feedback. Though the effect was surely interesting to hear, at times the reverb overpowered any chance of hearing what the band members were actually singing, but the audience didn’t seem to mind. Chatham Rise set the stage and mood for what was to come.
Chicagoans Lightfoils brought much of the same dynamic to the spotlight, using simplistic, repetitive guitar frameworks and amplifying them with shadowy effects. It was clear that they aimed to be more pop-oriented and the driving backdrops in combination with the ghosty vocals of Nicole Baksinskas ushered in an element of trip-hop. Well, not so much Massive Attack or Portishead as more modern reinterpretations (e.g. Phantogram). Again: reverb is undeniably sexy, but if you’re playing a venue like the Hexagon and you keep it as thick as the material spewing from your fog machine, the lyrical content is utterly drowned. Though this could be good or bad: while the audience will never know if you’re a genius, they’ll also never know if you’re a complete poetic dud. That said, I feel like any firm impression of this group that I might have formed is incomplete.
Third up were local conglomerate Mojo Pin Up, using stand-in bassist Sarah Rose from Is/Is for the night. Playing from a more grounded rock’n’roll standpoint, they were able to pull the audience out of their transcendent reverb-coma and provoke some dance floor action. As newly formed as the group is, they played tighter than ever, no mean feat considering that Rose had to learn their repertoire at the last minute.
But at the crux of it all this was Ringo Deathstarr’s show and they claimed it, man. Oh did they claim it. To start: their demeanor was indisputably cool. The players: apathetic female bassist Alex Gehring (it always works), hyper-animated drummer Daniel Coborn, and zen guitarist/lead vocalist Elliot Frazier. It worked, in the same way that the Dandy Warhols’ inter-band dynamic works and affects their audience (watching them play makes you feel perpetually stoned).
Ringo Deathstarr dove into their set full-force, rocking through much of the material on their recently released LP Colour Trip. While shoegaze tends to churn out an abundance of full-bodied but passive sounds, this is not the case with Ringo Deathstarr. Their use of effects wasn’t overbearing and acted more as a catalyst to the gritty rock that lay underneath it all. Another huge part of their appeal is that standing up there, they look completely unaffected, bored even. Yet the sounds emitted were anything but half-assed. This contradiction between appearance and actual energy was trippy to say the least, and I’d bet that’s just what they were going for. From “Chloe” to “Kaleidescope,” the band fast became 20-somethings’ wet dream of the West Coast underground show circuit they’d never experienced. That said, I (guilty of being a 20-something) left the bar feeling like I’d just left a basement show. In Portland. In ’94. And boy, do I thank them for that.