Here’s the setup. Ringo Deathstarr is a really loud, analog effect heavy, three piece, upbeat shoegaze band from Austin, Texas. My band played on a bill with them at the Drunken Unicorn here in Atlanta a while ago (maybe three years). That’s a significant amount of time – long enough for both their band and mine to have changed and evolved. But something really important about Ringo Deathstarr hasn’t changed. It’s something at the core, and something I can’t really put a finger on, even for intensive purposes. So I have to adopt their attitude for this one… and just speak of them as the thoughts come.
Last night was the first time I’ve seen the cool cats from Ringo Deathstarr since the aforementioned show three years ago. Since then, they’ve toured a LOT, the current one having covered much of North America. I didn’t get a formal interview, but Daniel Coborn (drummer) and I happened to find ourselves sitting next to each other at the bar early in the night. The first band, This Piano Plays Itself (from Atlanta), had just started their set. Those guys are, too, incredibly loud live. The dampening of the small room at 529 got better as increasing numbers of bodies occupied it – friends showing up late and wanderers behaving as curious wanderers should.
This mood and mode continued on through Abby Gogo’s (another one of our fine ATL bands) set. Not as loud, this band purports two guitars and stargazey sounds that I can only describe as ‘queerly happy.’ I mean, I don’t like ‘happy’ music and, other than knowing that I don’t like it, it is never really clearly defined to me (not like my affections for ‘dark’ music). But this – this attitude and sound – swelled up nods to Lush and The Raveonettes playing lazily in that loathed season that is summer and, for all these reasons intertwined, it just made me happy to hear it.
All in all, I thought This Piano Plays Itself and Abby Gogo were wonderful, and that both fit very naturally on a bill with Ringo Deathstarr. My passions for beyond-the-top effects, loose snares, thick bass and loud as hell Fenders mixed so perfectly with some simple, real shoegaze inspiration. It was a sonically consistent and cohesive night.
Now, not that I don’t adore both of the first two bands, but it was really Ringo Deathstarr that kept me from my Netflix and usual, idle Thursday night chit-chat. As explained by Daniel, and later sort of confirmed by Elliot [Frazier, guitarist/vocalist] and Alex [Gehring, bassist/vocalist], they’re almost finished with a 29 date tour that started in Austin in early June, spans six weeks and ends in Austin next week. Having paired up with Trail of Dead for several dates through June, driven up the west coast, through Canada and the Midwest over to Boston and Brooklyn and back down through here, Florida bound, all I can say is that I’m jealous. Oh and I’m really happy for them! They were a four piece the last time I saw them and, swear to this, their sound is thicker and more evolved and INvolved today which, oh yeah, brings me to the live show.
I know I say this about a lot of bands, but I think it’s telling – you cannot appreciate what Ringo Deathstarr is doing unless you see them live. You can’t. Though the records are great, there’s just no way to capture the noise that emerges with Elliot’s multi-amp, billion pedal live configuration. Often times, throughout the night, I found myself saying, ‘Oh, I know this one,’ and then having that thought dissipate into the sound wash of it all.
I can see how there might be a stig with a show like this… that all the songs sound the same. Not really true. Up front, right in front center where I was, the set seemed to take a journey. The first half was littered with more short, to-the-point tunes. And then, as the conclusion of it neared, with no particular need to end, I started hearing all these little melodies and atypical song structures emerge – little subtle shifts through the white noise, be it an abrupt beat change or the cut through of Elliot’s wah pedal. Though I often felt that I wasn’t hearing Alex’s low notes individually (when she was on bass, that is, not guitar), I felt the way that they were shaping Elliot’s guitar wall sound, and how they distinguished themselves when she went higher on the fretboard. Hearing how heavy Ringo Deathstarr is live is complimented when you can actually see when a pedal is turned on or off, when a bass progression changes or when drums sticks are broken. BTW, I think Daniel split most of his during the last three songs last night. It struck me as, ‘Oh yeah, wow, how hard must he be hitting to cut through Alex and Elliot’s sound wall with a tom, kick, snare, hats and one crash-ride?’ That was impressive in a real Sonic Youth sort of way.
I love how the vocal lines intertwine with Ringo Deathstarr’s music, but I could’ve certainly used more volume with it last night. Elliot was louder than Alex, and I could hear/recognize things better when both of them were singing, but it just wasn’t loud enough. Lots of times I don’t remember lyrics of theirs – a trait of their genre anyway (I love Slowdive, but realize that I never remember anything they’re singing about, i.e., and not that it matters). But still, Ringo Deathstarr’s vocal melodies are a nice characteristic of their sound, and the male/female tradeoff gives it a lot of its texture on their records, so I wanted more of that.
Ringo Deathstarr released their latest LP, Colour Trip, earlier this year. If you’re a fan of old school shoegaze and new school indie rock guitar elements with vocals that swell and rescind in melodic tides that’ll have you humming along, check it out. HERE’s a place to start.