Entering the Wonder Ballroom Saturday night, I had the sense I was walking into the climactic scene of a lost John Hughes film. For starters, there's the room itself, which has always struck me as an ill-equipped high school gymnasium. Then there's the fact it was an all-ages show, and in the early going crowd members with a credit history were far outnumbered by those without. So on one side of the gym, I saw a scatter of beards and beer stains. While on the opposite side, cliques and lipgloss. Looking out over this younger, skinnier crowd it was tempting to wonder, with so many charged hormones in one place on Valentine's Day—who were the Andies? Who were the Blanes? More importantly, who were the Duckies?
This scene was set even before Dirty Mittens, the first band, graced the room with their socially well-adjusted brand of twee pop. All six members wore paper hearts on their shirts and their performance was equally crafty and cute (if it's possible to use that word non-pejoratively in a room with large amplifiers). No more than two minutes passed at any point without a killer sax solo bursting out from the side of the stage. In between these high points, my fun would ebb and flow depending on the complexity of the harmonies the Mittens attempted and often mangled.
About mid-way through her shambolic set, Mittens frontwoman Chelsea Morrissey announced, "After the show, you can make out with us if you want! For charity, of course." She was referring to a kissing booth that had been set up on the lipgloss side of the gym. And, true to her word, most members of her group found their way to this social experiment by the end of the night. But the scene stayed woefully chaste. A result, no doubt, of the decision to put the booth on the side of the room without alcohol.
With Mittens gone and enough giddiness expended for two all-ages shows, Explode Into Colors followed with a strikingly different and more focused approach. Their set was the most awesome of the night. It consisted not so much of songs as it did aural shapes, each outlined by an intricate marching band beat and colored by hooky, tribal cheers. It was fascinating to see how much variety the trio was able to spin from this formula.
Next was Strength, the evening's low light. They came on like a pervy, undersexed Spandau Ballet, or a cut-rate Chromeo. Whatever the aim, it was clearly a case of irony eating itself and catching a stomach virus. Subscribers to XLR8R will tell you this isn't a rare disease. So, best of luck to them.
With the bar significantly lowered, Starfucker, the evening's headliners hit the stage. Their set was defined less by their plentiful hooks (as heard on record) than by their expertly controlled feedback. There were a few droney, low-tempo moments which seem to hint at the extraordinary dream pop album this band has in them. Granted, such moments seemed to push a lot of people out the door. But the deserters would eventually find their way back into the venue after a few bars of more jaunty offerings, like "Rawnald." Everything apparently Duckie, once again.