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Black Comedy: Stars and the Sea, Rasputina, and Voltaire at the Ottobar, Feb. 25

February 28, 2011

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.

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  • starsandthesea

    WOW…Thanks Al for the review…at least you could use a little lube next time – Stars and The Sea

    P.S. You should probably stay away from the “Arby’s angus three cheese & bacon thing” it’s bad for your health and can’t wait to hear your “I made an awesome random rap mix CD” WOW!

  • Michael Borum

    Music al taste is really subjective, as is writing tasteful reviews. Not only does your article label the musicians, but you’ve taken shots at potential readers as well, generalizing that the crowd was full of “Goths and weirdoes.” Your pontificating style reads narcissistically, as if you are over-compensating for your lack of intellect by taking cheap shots at people in general. We’re all in on the joke Al, it’s just not the one you intended. – Michael Borum

  • Fred

    to add to the running “joke”, Stars and the Sea did not even perform the song “She’s Mine”….

  • Pat MYBS

    I saw the show and found this review to be very harsh of all the acts and the crowd. Personal attacks are totally uncool, unprofessional and mean. WTF? I thought all the acts brought a lot of originality and courage to a limping scene, way to show your support Al!

  • Al Shipley

    Sorry about the song title error, I’d listened to the band’s EP after the show and thought I recognized that song from their set but I guess I was wrong. I enjoyed all three bands very much, though, I’m sorry if that didn’t come across in the review!

  • KK Steel

    To say that “you enjoyed the bands but it didn’t come through in the review” is an understatement! You should be sorry about much more than the song title error. I too was @ the show on Friday night and have a totally different perception of the show. I also don’t consider myself to be a goth or a weirdo. Hopefully after reading the first sentence of your “review” all of the intelligent readers will just stop there since you lost your credibility for me precisely at that point of the article. If you’re THAT close minded you should have never been there in the first place.

  • Townsman

    Maybe you ought to print a retraction seeing as your comment above is in direct contrast to the article you published. Just a thought.

  • Josephamey

    I second Townsman’s motion! I was there at the show – The so called “Goths and Weirdos” rocked out th Stars and the Sea from what I remeber. – Rock Solid peformance from the band and I’ll definately be checking them out again. BTW – I love seeing this Al Shipley make a complete ass of himself… Sorry you missed a great show Al!

  • Piranaha

    Seems to me that Al pretty much had his mind made up before he arrived at the show.. He wasn’t going to like it. Hence commenting on songs that were not even played!
    I was one of the weirdos there and I certainly didn’t see the same show he saw.
    Gladly the rest of the weirdos who weren’t there to see the show are smart enough to know you can’t really go by an obviously mean spirited review. Star and the Sea had great set people! Not perfect but great!

  • jenna

    Stars and the Sea, although not a perfect set, you played well. I had a great time and will gladly hang with all the “goths and weirdos” again. Thanks for your part in the Baltimore music scene. We need more authentic, original bands like you. Keep it going!

    Al, you should be ashamed of yourself… giving a scathing review and then totally changing your tune in a response comment. WTF? You should retract and apologize. Or perhaps being a food critic is more up your alley?

  • weirdo / freak

    Really have a cheeseburger at a rap show next time… oh! How does that feel you no talent hack.

  • RedheadedStepchild

    I was at the show and the bands were great! Wow Al you enjoyed the bands?!?
    I shudder to think what you would write if you really hated a band!
    What a douche!!!!!

  • Al Shipley

    Is every fan of these bands a militant vegetarian? What a strange line of attack!

  • Fred

    Hey, I like an occasional cheeseburger (even with bacon)! In any case, in taking a glance at some of your recent reviews, they tend to favor the rap / hip-hop genres. If that’s your thing, no issues man, stick with reviewing that.

    Agree with what the others said. Your review sure had a very negative air about it from start to finish. Certainly did not get the feeling that you enjoyed any second of the show. The name calling of the patrons was the icing on the cake for me personally.

  • Twostep69

    the flaming is not helping. While I was also at the show and don’t agree w Al’s opinion (I thought the show was great overall), the flaming is causing prob hurting more than helping matters.

  • julie

    I was at the show and am not sure it was the same show you attended. I also find it odd that you listened to a CD after the show and “plugged in” a song title. The crowd’s response to Stars and the Sea does not match your review either. Wow, sounds almost like you wrote the whole thing before the show? Sounds like a joke to me. Where is the punchline???

  • Ted with Tourette’s

    As a guy who has struggled with Tourette’s for most of his life and is accustomed to torment, I resent that you labeled the crowd “weirdoes.” I was at that particular show ASSHOLE BREATH and… sorry, the meds haven’t kicked in yet. As I was saying, I thought that the bands and the crowd were awesome DOUCHE MOUTH and it does seem like your review was premeditated SHIT FUCK FACE! Sorry… again, it can be difficult at times to articulate my opinion with my neurological disorder. I hope you understand INTENTIONAL BASTARD!