One of the few pleasures of being a teenager in Sedgley in the 1980s was proximity to decent live music. Either in Wolverhampton, Dudley or Birmingham, there was generally something happening gig wise most weekends. Gigs were like football matches for the most post part in the smaller venues – if you fancied it, just turn up on the day or night. There was no need to buy tickets months in advance. A few quid on the door generally got you into the venue.
North London still has similar venues almost forty years on. The Boston Arms is a case in point. £7 or so sees you good for an up and coming band. Earlier in the year I saw the Districts tear the roof off of the larger room (the Dome) next door, I saw the Everlasting Yeah play a great gig a few years back and I’ve got tickets to see the excellent Japanese Breakfast later in the autumn.
Looking around the venue on a Tuesday night in September, it felt like a trip down memory lane in a good way. The tribes were out and you don’t see that often. Look over there by the bar – there’s a couple of Johnny Thunders lookalikes. I’ve got a couple of psycho-billies behind me. And then there’s the kids getting off on seeing scuzzy rock’n’roll in the flesh, in their vintage denim and faux fur jackets. Having taken my daughter to see the Kooks recently and witnessed a pleasant but bland “one high street size fits all” approach to gig fashion, it was refreshing to see some real characters in the crowd.
This was all about Starcrawler though. A four piece from Los Angeles, they’ve released just one 7″ single to date. “Ants”, backed with “Used To Know” is a peppy power punk thrash. It doesn’t take itself seriously, drawing on the schlocky appeal of the Cramps and Alice Cooper for inspiration.
The single was released on Rough Trade and the label are obviously giving the band a decent push, this being their second visit to the UK already this year. They’ve already recorded their first LP and managed to bag BlackCountryRock favourite Ryan Adams as a producer. They’ve got youth on their side with the two front people, singer Arrow de Wilde and guitarist Henri Cash both still in their teens and the other band members in their early twenties.
Growing up in LA, they’ve got some rock’n’roll heritage. Whilst they’ve got their classic rock chops (Arrow is a huge Ozzy Osborne fan which is borne out in the tasselled shirt and arms aloft poses), they also have a youthful punkish attitude. There is nothing approaching a ballad. Henri is assured beyond his years, permanently egging the crowd on. Spraying out Stooges riffs, he has got his jacket off by the second song and duck walking around the stage. Full of knowing winks to the crowd, there is one lovely moment when he leans into the crowd to ruffle the hair of a fan old enough to be his dad.
Arrow is a force of nature. Arriving on stage in a straightjacket with her eyes rolled back in her head, the lunatics have taken over the asylum. It is a twist on the Cramps performing at the Napa State Mental Hospital back in 1978.
Apparently Arrow alternates between the straightjacket and hospital gown. She is literally all over the place, prowling the stage, crawling around the drum riser and athletically jumping off the stage and chasing people around the venue. She is committed to the show and her art in a similar way to Iggy Pop, in his flinging peanut butter at the crowd whilst wearing a horse’s tail years. We get fake blood and faux craziness. As a double act with Henri, they are unstoppable.
The material isn’t startlingly original. As a fifty year old bloke, I’ve largely heard it all before. But when it delivered with such skill, enthusiasm and aplomb, it really doesn’t matter. This is all about the show and having suffered the bland anaemia of Ed Sheehan, Blossoms and Bastille at recent Glastonbury Festivals for the sake of my teenage daughter, then give me Starcrawler any day of the week. There album is out early next year and I’ll be keeping an eye out for them.
Support came from Starsha Lee. A similar format (a woman fronting a punkish drum guitar bass band), this didn’t quite grab me in the same way as Starcrawler did. They were visually arresting with the guitarist in a blue spangled jacket and a bleached mod feather cut. Starsha herself was wearing a pair of black aviators and camisole with a teddy bear tucked in. She owned the stage but the songcraft and vocals didn’t hook me as the main event did.
That said though, for £7 on a Tuesday night and a ten minute drive from home, it was exceedingly good value for money. The Boston Music Rooms and Dome are great pub venues and long may they prosper.
I may not have seen the future of rock’n’roll but it was bracing, exhilirating and a little bit restorative. Bravo to Starcrawler and Starsha Lee.