Starcrawler + Smokes @ Bar le Ritz – 22nd October 2019

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I never know what to expect from Bar le Ritz PDB. What do those three last letters even stand for? Why do they have racks of chairs but it’s super clear you’re not meant to touch them? They used to have this fantastic wine and beer list, all prettied up in cute calligraphy above the bar, and now half of it is wiped out. It doesn’t seem like it’s been around long enough to have transitioned from hipster to dive. I know those things are, like, one degree from one another, but to go from having a great Gamay on offer to all the lights being burnt out and everyone is exhausted to be there feels drastic.

That said, it kind of makes it the perfect venue in which to see a band that no one you know has heard of, and that is totally the next greatest thing. Enter, Starcrawler. Well, actually, enter Pussy Stench, then Smokes, then, finally, Starcrawler

I can’t make myself show up for the opener’s opener. I want to be that dedicated, but this girl has a few day jobs to keep up with, and at 8:30pm, I’m still shooting off emails. I made it in time for Smokes, at 9:45pm, but while I tried, desperately, to come up with positive things to say about them (“there does seem to be an acknowledgement that a song should have a melody” is a highlight from my notes), I won’t bore you here with my efforts. Basically, they had me wondering, of the patrons, “Who are these people? Are they regulars?” and whether I should be listening to more heavy metal so I know what to say about these types of bands. There was echo-loud screaming, heavy distortion, rhythmic thumping, and I was happy when it ended. 

My hopes were lifted from Starcrawler’s first moments on stage. I won’t bury the lead – this band is so fun and seeing and hearing them live was very cool. They feel like Nirvana meets Black Sabbath. Gritty and distorted in a PhotoShopped world, raw talent in the Insta-sea of “anyone can be a star!” Coming from a performance arts high school in Los Angeles, the ensemble is made up of Austin Smith (drums), Tim Franco (bass), Henri Cash (guitar) and Arrow de Wilde – daughter of famed photographer and music video director Autumn de Wilde. You need only witness de Wilde’s entrance on the scene to know she was meant to perform. Her stage persona is almost absurd, but the superior showmanship indicates professionalism. It is an edgy act, the blood-spattered outfit, the ghastly makeup, but it is done with a wink. Lead guitarist Henri Cash, engages plenty with the crowd, playing a scary rocker, who, in way of greeting, asked the crowd if we were going to stand still or fucking move around.

Cash and de Wilde are an iconic duo: he revs and controls the crowd, and she performs. He starts a song simply making faces at the crowd, in quick succession, hamming it up but also being a little edgy. She plays different versions of her disturbing character: the conductor, the marionette, the creepy doll, and the sexpot when she’s deep-throating the mic. At the end of each song, de Wilde “dies” on stage, coming back to life for each performance. At the end of one song, she strangles herself with the microphone wire and lays there choking into the mic for a moment before jumping up to perform the next banger. For another, she blows her brains out with a finger gun. I took a video at one point but thought better of posting it. With the suicide renderings and the bare breasts, the show requires a trigger warning.

It’s all very well done, and though I don’t need the antics to enjoy the show – they’re so damn talented, musically – I love it. Plus, the music itself is so much better live. That said, I have some top picks: “Bet My Brains” is the song that hooked me, and “Hollywood Ending” is simple and hearkens 90’s grunge, reminding me of Hole. Most of their music just sounds like straightforward rock n’ roll – “No More Pennies” reminded me of a Sheryl Crow song. (But when they play it live it’s more exciting and proves this band can write a catchy song.)

This band is just taking off, and I can see them performing in far bigger venues, and I’ll be one of the hipsters that saw them at a hole in the wall before they were truly famous. It won’t be long. 

Review – Carrie-Ann Kloda

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