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StellaStarr* justify their hype at the Barfly


Review: Jack Foley

Stellastarr* - Barfly, May 14, '03

THE hype surrounding Stellastarr*, 'the latest musical act to emerge from New York', has been steadily building since their debut UK single, Somewhere Across Forever, first went out on stations such as Xfm.

The alluring blend of heavy, modern guitars, coupled with a retro-80s vibe, which is still huge in America, has proved irrestistible to DJs and listeners alike, with many already naming it as their record of the week.

The chance to see them live at The Barfly, in Camden, was therefore to good an opportunity to pass up, offering, as it did, an insight into whether Somewhere Across Forever was a glorious fluke, or whether Stellastarr* would emerge as a band to watch in the future.

Suffice it to say, on the strength of the gig, the latter is true. Stellastarr* are a class act, although desperately keen to play down their Big Apple roots (seeing it as more of a curse, than a blessing, in the current musical climate).

Comprised of four members, Stellastarr* delivered a fast and furious 45-minute set that had the packed venue buzzing with excitement.

Each song was greeted with genuine enthusiasm and rapturous applause, which merely served to heighten the band's energy and willingness to entertain.

Lead singer, Shawn Christensen, seemed genuinely humbled by the popularity his band has already mustered, and performed with a real gusto, cavorting around the stage like a man possessed at times.

The punk influence of tracks such as Stay Entertained and Angeline (women are a recurrent theme) harked back to the heyday of the genre, while in some of his expressions and vocal turns, Christensen evoked memories of John Lydon in his element (particularly in the way he could roll his eyes).

And while a heavy guitar sound was very much to the fore throughout most of the set-list, some of Michael Jurin's background riffs, and Amanda Tannen's bass-lines, conjured memories of early Cure - albeit with a lighter tone.

Needless to say, the current single was the highlight of the evening, played at the halfway point, and as strong, live, as it is on the radio (even if Tannen's backing vocals occasionally became drowned by the wailing guitars).

Unlike some of the bands to have emerged from New York recently, or even some of the nu-metal American movement, there is a lot going on in Stellastarr*'s tracks, with almost every track containing a heady mix of chiming guitars and inventive hooks, which cross well between the pop-driven mainstream and the new-wave vibe which surrounds them.

They are heavy, in places, but they're not just about head-banging and there is a refreshing exuberance about most of their songs, which makes them great fun to hang out with - the track, School Ya, manages to include 'teachers, preachers and cheerleaders', while earlier in the set, a Coco girl was repeatedly referred to.

What's more, all of the band has stage presence, with Jurin and the sweet-voiced Tannen frequently lending a hand with the vocals, and Arthur Kremer, on drums, providing a truly madcap presence behind them - all manic energy and fiery passion. On this occasion, he finished the gig bare-chested, with a pair of retro-shades and black tape across one nipple.

Stellastarr* may be provoking comparisons with everyone from The Pixies and Velvet Underground, to The Cure and post-punkers, The Strokes, but they also possess a style all of their own and the buzz surrounding them looks more than justified.

Their giddy fusion of 80s alternative rock-pop with a harder, guitar-driven Nineties edge means they look perfectly placed to be around for a long time to come, not so much riding on the coat-tails of the current new-wave revival, but ensuring that the sound doesn't become stale.

If you get the chance to catch up with them the next time they're in town, we suggest that you do so. They probably won't be playing small venues for very long...

 

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