Theatricality and clever melodies took over Revelry Room last night—well, that and crowd-surfing astronauts, long-limbed creatures and alligators in red, billowing capes holding glowing cubes. But we'll get to that in a moment. Let me talk a bit about the bands first.
Portland, Oregon, band Reptaliens, led by husband-wife duo Bambi and Cole Browning, create surreal pop and rock landscapes filled with wobbly synth lines and surprisingly fierce guitar licks. Ostensibly working within the foggy world of cracked dream pop, the band only really aligns itself with any given sound when it suits them, casting a wide net of sounds that touches on a handful of genres. Filled with lyrics about conspiracy theories, sci-fi themes and cults, their songs are imbued with an ecstatic pop-rock euphoria, the kind of honest emotional release that so few bands manage to successfully evince.
For STRFKR, also from Portland, music is a way of creating a direct connection with another person, whether it's a friend or stranger. Their blissfully psychedelic and thrumming dance pop rhythms explode from a series of keyboards and guitars, matched only by the thudding beats rising from the drums. In the vein of fellow skewed pop worshipers Of Montreal and The Fiery Furnaces, they bend and contort their melodic instincts until everything is a blur of fluorescent rhythms and open-ended melodies. The band concocts these bouncy, rapturous sounds with ease, handing them out to an audience of willing participants. And everyone in attendance at Revelry Room was certainly ready to be complicit in some musical shenanigans.
I got to Revelry Room fairly early, a bad habit of mine. But the space was already starting to fill with people wearing various band shirts and staking out places in front of the stage. Others were mingling in the Hush Lounge, drinking and socializing before the evening's music got started. Closer to 9 p.m., I situated myself close to the corner of the stage and waited for the usual flurry of tech adjustments and last-minute changes to stage placement to end. The wait wasn't too long before Reptaliens took the stage, accompanied by a person wearing an alligator mask and adorned in a flowing, iridescent cape. And he was holding a glowing cube while messages telling us to "leave behind the cares of daily life" were pumped through the PA system. And it just got weirder from there.
The band churned out a gauzy and sharp-edged indie rock noise, punctuated by bursts of intense pop inspiration. Their set was loud and propulsive, a throwback to when rock bands weren't afraid to let their pop flags fly—although, in this case, it was a mutated flag that flew above the stage. The visuals were just as impressive as the sound, with a sharp-dressed alligator man brandishing a cross as he hopped from one side of the stage to the other. Another mummified figure with extended arms cavorted around Bambi as she beat out a determined pulse from her bass guitar. The set seemed like it was over in a moment, leaving us reeling from howling along with the band and doing our best to draw enough air into our lungs to keep from passing out.
After a few geographical shifts of drum sets, mics and guitars, STRFKR was ready to go and took the stage to a roar of applause and screams. This would be my first time seeing the band, although I've been familiar with their work for some time. Their emphatic and vivid synth rock bluster has always been mesmeric in its execution and never less than remarkable in its ability to get people moving in under a second. Led by singer Joshua Hodges, the band immediately launched into a day-glo pattern of echoing beats, explosive guitar licks and absurdist visuals.
Decked out in a pink and white shirtdress and buffeted by two dancing astronauts in full attire, Hodges guided the band through a chest-thumping set of synthetic pop movements that were hard to shake and caused no small amount of spontaneous dancing and shaking from the audience. There was never an issue of how the band would win over the crowd (as is sometimes the case with some artists)—they had us at rapt attention from that first pop detonation. The music was joyous and earnest, offering a token of their warm appreciation that washed over us like a never-ending tide of melting tones and vibrant melodies.
One of the astronauts went crowd surfing, riding out over the audience, arms outstretched. He was "flown" around the room before landing safely back on the stage. And that remarkable chemistry and energy that were released as they began to perform never lessened, giving the show a dynamic and spirited animation that continued until the band left the stage to cheers and howling admiration. STRFKR seemed to be less concerned with playing to expectations and more interested in creating a giant, strobing dance party, the kind that can last for hours and leaves everyone sweaty and in desperate need of a case of Gatorade. And in that goal, they succeeded—building a compelling and lucid pop atmosphere where anything was possible and astronauts hovered 6 feet off the ground.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
Updated @ 8:47 a.m. on 7/17/17 to correct typographical errors.