Live Shots: Starfucker and Painted Palms at Great American Music Hall

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Though Starfucker hails from Portland, Ore., it’s easy to see why the band feels at home here. If a bunch of hip, pasty dudes performing in drag doesn’t scream “San Francisco,” I don’t know what does. Its name is edgy enough to elicit parental concern (the less offensive STRFKR is often used instead), but Starfucker’s trendy synth-pop is catchy and sweet.

Every time the band rolls through town, it seems like more resident scenesters have been bitten by the Starfucker bug. Maybe it was the release of the delightful Reptilians (Polyvinyl) in March, or its appearance at last summer’s Outside Lands festival that ignited Starfucker pandemonium. Whatever the reason, the group was inspired to put on three Bay Area shows to accommodate voracious fans this time around.

Friday night’s sold-old show at the Great American Music Hall was jam-packed enough to quell the most insatiable appetite. As the band appeared in gaudy thrift store dresses and wigs, the young, attractive crowd went ape. Joints were sparked, beers were lifted, and the band made it impossible to have a bad time.

At every Starfucker show I’ve seen in the past (I’ve seen a lot), the band seemed to rely heavily on the seductive charisma of former lead vocalist Ryan Biornstad. Without Biornstad, the boys mostly resigned to their respective positions on stage with no one taking a lead position. There was, however, plenty of tambourine shaking and wig tossing.

Though slightly less exciting visually, Starfucker sounded better than ever. Melodic synthesizers and guitars meshed with founding member Josh Hodges’ gentle, androgynous vocals. The extremely long set featured a bunch of tracks from Reptilians, including the Passion Pit-esque “Julius,” a hand-clap inciting “Death as a Fetish,” and many older selections from the Starfucker catalog. With its lusty bassline and celestial synths, “Isabella of Castile” served as a reminder that the band’s name was aptly chosen. Other highlights were the Target commercial jam “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second” and cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

When the set finally concluded, we were a sweat-soaked, satisfied bunch. Those on stage were likely sweatier and undoubtedly more exhausted. There wasn’t much between song banter, but the night began with Hodges declaring the band’s love for San Francisco. Hey Starfucker, the feeling is mutual.

Opener: I spent most of Painted Palms’ set trying to figure out why keyboardist Reese Donohue was giving me major déjà vu. I realized that I’d seen Donohue doing lead vocals during electronica outfit Butterfly Bones’ opening set for Starfucker at the Rickshaw Stop years ago. I’m pretty sure I also saw him on stage with absurd joke rap ensemble Flophouse when it opened for Starfucker side-arm Skeletron at Milk Bar. Painted Palms was, however, the most promising act I’ve seen Donohue perform with so far. A relatively new band with only one EP under its belt, the duo cranked out a short set filled with bright loops and chill vibes, which was a nice way to warm up for Starfucker’s crazy energy.

All photos by Wolfgangg Photography.

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