Black Comedy: Stars and the Sea, Rasputina, and Voltaire at the Ottobar, Feb. 25
On Friday night, the Baltimore post-punk trio Stars and the Sea got a pretty plum gig playing to a full house of goths and weirdos dressed in top hats and corsets and leather jackets, opening for the like-minded cult acts Rasputina and Voltaire. It was an ideal audience for the band, three aging rockers playing self-consciously dark ’80s-inspired music, and they certainly seemed excited to be there. Frontman Shane Gardner, with his craggy features, long dark hair, bizarre stage presence and confusing attempts at humor brought to mind Tommy Wiseau of the cult film The Room.
After a couple of originals, Stars and the Sea started peppering their sets with covers, and Gardner dryly introduced a Bauhaus song by saying “Who here likes Peter Murphy?” Then, after pausing for applause, added, “Well, I’m no Peter Murphy, but. . . . ” He later subbed in Jeff Buckley’s name for the same joke before a shambling rendition of “Yard of Blonde Girls” that made it all too clear that Gardner did not in fact share Buckley’s vocal range. Drummer John Leatherman’s unsteady timekeeping was what held the band back from outright competence, but Gardner’s hamfisted lyrics and vocals on originals like the brain-dead “She’s Mine” lent the whole amateurish affair a level of mild camp that made the band more entertaining than a more capable goth power trio would’ve been.
The headliners, by comparison, were far more in on the joke. Rasputina’s live shows are highlighted by frontwoman Melora Creager’s kooky monologues between songs, which on this particular night involved a threesome with the Abominable Snowman. And when she wasn’t singing her own offbeat songs, Creager was doing tongue-in-cheek cello covers of the Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now” and Heart’s “Barracuda.” Voltaire, a singer/songwriter whose jaunty goofball songs about zombie prostitutes made him seem like some kind of “Weird Al” Yankovic figure for the goth set, verged on standup comedy throughout a set that was hampered by a guitar that had been crunched up badly in an overhead compartment during a flight earlier that day. Without being able to plug the acoustic/electric into an amp, Voltaire had to improvise playing in front of a microphone, and made it into a running joke in which he’d pull the guitar away from the mic and mime playing an epic solo.