Review: The Starlight Mints + Evangelicals @ Turner Hall

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Words by Amy Elliott * Photos by CJ Foeckler

I would like to immediately apologize for the cliché I am about to employ, but I’ve just come from Turner Hall, I’ve had a few priced-to-move beers, I just walked the almost-mile home, and I’m feeling geared up. Ready?

The Starlight Mints and Evangelicals: A study in contrasts. Yeah, I know. I’m sorry.

I’m sorry to have to pull a move like this, but I feel especially keen to this, having just a few days ago fawned over John Vanderslice, despite his opener The Tallest Man on Earth ostensibly stealing the show, and despite dozens of field reports from attendees who found JV outright boring. Am I feeling defensive? Not really, but over the past few days (which included the similarly polarizing Grizzly Bear show on Monday) I’ve been thinking a lot about live music, what makes it worth it, who goes to see which bands and why, whether it’s all just a futile exercise in consumerism and mass capital culture, and equally tedious threads of completely dead-ended conversation. I do apologize.

But bear with me here: The Starlight Mints. Drowaton was released in 2006. That’s three years ago, if you’re counting. And they’re on tour right now to promote their about-to-be-released full length Change Remains. The Starlight Mints are a relatively well-respected band with no big hits to their name. After the release of Built on Squares in 2003, one writer (for the blog tinymixtapes.com) wrote that the album “outline[d] the direction that pop music is headed. So watch out rock ‘n roll, because pop music is back, closing in fast at the top of indie music— thanks to creative and artistic bands like Starlight Mints.”

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Who could disagree with that? Except that it is now 2009. That means it’s almost 2010! And that’s the future. No one could argue that The Starlight Mints are doing anything wrong; nay, this band, at least in concert, sounds like they’re doing everything exactly, calculatedly right, from the throbbing Technicolor light show to the hand clapping to the ostentatious megaphone to the tight, sharp lines of melody, harmony and smacking-loud beat. I thought it was a solid show that pretty much had it all: it was danceable, friendly, satisfyingly wacky and complicated yet memorable and catchy. Allan Vest sings in a loveable falsetto and keyboard player Marian Love Nunez loveably squirms and claps and shouts, and everything is admirably executed, from the vintage harbor town shuffle of “Rhino Stomp” to the sunny “Eyes of the Night” and their sorta-hit single “Popsicle” (the video features Muppets; perhaps you’ve seen it?), which Vest claimed the band hadn’t played “in like 10 years.”

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That was during the encore, and he refused to close with it; “I hate closing with that song,” he said, before choosing something less iconic of a band that for some damn reason has failed to really make a break for it during their more-than-a-decade together.

Why does that happen? Isn’t this band doing everything right? I kept asking myself these questions, and yet as a concertgoer, I did not really find myself moved. Sure, I tapped my feet, smiled at times and generally enjoyed myself. Would I have left, had I not felt editorially obliged to stay through the encore? Absolutely. But I would’ve felt at least a little guilty.IMG_6382

Where Starlight Mints were deliberate and controlled, openers Evangelicals – another band from Norman, OK – let loose a riot of bone-rattling noise. As (appropriately) the sun went down on Turner Hall, Evangelicals first asked for us to politely stand up from our cabaret tables, then proceeded to tear into a furious set of selections mostly from 2008’s The Evening Descends – an album that sounds like an operetta by a b-movie horror master, full of spooks and skeletons, church bells and graveyards, wailing and murmured lines of dialogue.

Under layers of effects and in the frenzy of the performance, the subtler lines of melody – and the gentler abilities of Josh Jones’ Freddie Mercury-esque falsetto – were lost, but to the favor of urgency and energy and an ineffable quality of something like truth. The bassist howled and shouted, the lead guitar player seared out shrieking solos and hammered out weird lines of keyboard in his free time. They didn’t look like much – pretty much what you would expect a bunch of basement rockers from Oklahoma to look like – nor did they put on a very flashy stage show, besides some creepy low-lights and a half-hearted strobe at the closer. But by “Bellawood,” the meltdown centerpiece from Evening Descends, it was evident that Evangelicals had unleashed something undeniable.

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A study in contrasts, then: the contained and the uncontainable; the processed and the raw; the spontaneous and the predictable; the tenable and the irrefutable. Perhaps this concert does not call for any melodramatic conclusions about the sound of tomorrow and the sound of (at best) today – ultimately, maybe this is all just a matter of taste.

After all, the crowd was small but wildly appreciative, and even though most of the people who’d clamored to hear Evangelicals left Turner Hall when the headliners started, there were just as many people who arrived just in time to cheer on the Mints.

Maybe at the end of the day, it’s all just rock & roll.

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