Author: Shaun Soman
STRFKR photo courtesy of Holly Schaal.
From the opening splash cymbals of “Florida” to the lingering drone of “Maps,” hipster pop four-piece STRFKR dazzled an effervescent crowd at Chicago’s Lincoln Hall on Tuesday, October 2nd. Gathered to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Los Angeles-based outfit’s debut album Starfucker, the audience witnessed a relatively tame, albeit still meaningful, set from Josh Hodges and company. Present were the expected antics (confetti guns, astronauts engaged in sexually provocative acts, etc.), but (seemingly) absent was the emotional arc of past efforts; while it was effortless to groove from the concert’s outset, one did not quite experience that moment of transcendence STRFKR often induces.
Of course, those congregated at the modest venue reveled in a vintage STRFKR performance featuring a classic album that was given a lukewarm reception upon its release, so, it’s whatever. Once Hodges (above, center), Shawn Glassford (above, left) Keil Corcoran, and Patrick Morris — glamorous in their return to drag aesthetics — assumed their stage positions, a palpable joy permeated Lincoln Hall. While the crowd was not quite on its game (those in attendance struggled with clapping sequences on both “Florida” and “Holly”), STRKFR was invigorating as they reaffirmed why they are a must-see band.
Arguably, STRKFR’s first set, comprised entirely of their debut album from beginning to end, heavily influenced the night’s reserved flow. On tours past, Miracle Mile’s trip-inducing “Atlantis” has
primed standout gem “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second” to reach dizzying heights before “German Love” rounded out the vibe-drenched trifecta. In contrast, Tuesday’s performance saw “Laadeedaa,” a damn fine track offering the debut album’s punkest moment, and “U Ba Khin,” a hazy, drifting song that fittingly provokes introspection considering its namesake, struggle to engage the crowd and provide an intoxicating emotional cocktail. Despite this, knockout one-two combo “Hard Smart Beta” and “Pop Song” represented some of the evening’s brightest moments as the former’s kaleidoscopic synths and propulsive drums seamlessly transitioned into the latter’s sardonic lyricism and otherworldly refrain. As several elements coalesce to envelop listeners within a singular auditory waveform, one feels the joyous whole of existence — full stop. At this point, follow-up tracks “Miss You” and “Isabella of Castile,” offer a somber break for air before one-time-original-now-B-side “Pistol Pete” concludes the first set on high.
Following a brief intermission and outfit change, STRFKR returned with a glimmering follow-up set. Alongside “Tape Machine” and “Satellite,” aforementioned staple “Atlantis” plunged listeners into sensual grooves before “Kahlil Gibran” provided respite to unsuspecting listeners before drag queen astronauts caressed band members throughout “Mystery Cloud.” While this sequence was redeemed by “Malmo,” this is the moment where STRFKR typically elevates an already strong effort to another level; however, that fleeting, drug-like thrill (complemented by a shimmering light show, maximum crowd energy, and – during 2016’s Being No One, Going Nowhere Tour, Psychic Twin joining the antics) did not appear Tuesday night, even as a series of Jupiter and Reptilians tracks bookended by “Open Your Eyes” and “While I’m Alive” concluded the second act. Still, it behooves one to have perspective; a good or merely fine STRFKR outing rivals other musicians’ best performances – this is the standard they have set.
Admittedly, it seems unfair to both the musicians and to oneself to judge the night’s energies in relation to past tours; indeed, adherence to such a criterion misses the point of a tenth anniversary tour. Rather than holding onto expectations to hear particular songs in a certain, predictable order (Jupiter’s “Boy Toy” and Reptilians’ “Astoria” were surprisingly absent), one should pause to consider how this night – this entire tour – offered a glimpse into what may hopefully be ten more years of STRFKR. From quirky indie pop to synth-laden disco (with a healthy dose of psychedelic surf in between), STRFKR is the rare group that can transmute its aesthetic while maintaining overarching coherence. That Hodges and company have not wavered from their “designed to fail” moniker suggests a creative integrity which few of their contemporaries have retained. Once again, STRFKR has earned its place within listeners’ hearts.
After a solid encore consisting of “Leave It All Behind” and “Maps,” fans waited for a chance to interact with Hodges, Glassford, and Corcoran. While some registered to vote at a table run by the band’s friend Michael (many were already registered), others watched the Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies vying for an opportunity to meet the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Division Series. Yours truly and photographer Holly Schaal waited from the bottom of the 10th inning until the top of the 13th to speak with Josh. Prior to this, Shawn asked if we had a good time as we meet before the show while getting pad see-ew at the nearby Thai Bowl. In each instance, their sheer exuberance and genuine appreciation were tangible; these are individuals who, perhaps never expecting to still be in a band with a radio-unfriendly name, have clearly relished each moment. Ultimately, the evening might not have blessed audiences with the best show qua artistic experience, but it certainly granted us with profound meaning and thanks. Truly, STRFKR’s 10th Anniversary Tour was a grand occasion not to be forgotten.
The complete setlist was as follows:
Act One: Starfucker (2008) 10th Anniversary Celebration
2. “German Love”
3. “Myke Ptyson”
5. “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second”
6. “U Ba Khin”
7. “Interlude 1”
9. “Hard Smart Beta”
10. “Pop Song”
11. “Interlude 2”
12. “Miss You”
13. “Isabella of Castile”
14. “Pistol Pete”
1. “Atlantis” (Miracle Mile, 2013)
2. “Tape Machine” (Being No One, Going Nowhere, 2016)
3. “Satellite” (Being No One, Going Nowhere)
4. “Kahlil Gibran” (Miracle Mile)
5. “Mystery Cloud” (Reptilians, 2011)
6. “Malmo” (Miracle Mile)
7. “Golden Light” (Miracle Mile)
8. “Something Ain’t Right” (Being No One, Going Nowhere)
9. “Open Your Eyes” (Being No One, Going Nowhere)
10. “Jupiter” (Jupiter, 2009)
11. “Bury Us Alive” (Reptilians)
12. “Medicine” (Jupiter)
13. “Millions” (Reptilians)
14. “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (Jupiter)
15. “Quality Time” (Reptilians)
16. “While I’m Alive” (Miracle Mile)
17. “Being No One” (Being No One, Going Nowhere)
1. “Leave It All Behind” (Miracle Mile)
2. “Maps” (Being No One, Going Nowhere)