STRFKR provides perfect escape from reality at Newport

By: Zachary Kolesar

Imagine walking into your 9-5 dressed however you desired. Have a nice floral dress you have been meaning to show off? Feeling a tie-dye day? All you. Wrapped in glow sticks? Sure, go for it.

 Blue and purple ambient lights cloak indie outfit STRFKR while it entertains concertgoers at Newport Music Hall on Weds., Feb. 28. (Photo by Zachary Kolesar)

Blue and purple ambient lights cloak indie outfit STRFKR while it entertains concertgoers at Newport Music Hall on Weds., Feb. 28. (Photo by Zachary Kolesar)

Pink hair, spacesuit and a boxing robe were just a few of the costumes donned by particular “employees,” who unorthodoxically clocked in just after 9:15 p.m. at Newport Music Hall. These bizarre presences that overcame the stage halfway through STRFKR’s nearly two-hour set on Wednesday were what helped launch an eclectic dance party.

STRFKR shows have created a universe that exists outside of the corporate shell. The indie, electronica, alternative Portland outfit curated a cosmos led by the crew of Joshua Hodges (vocals, keyboards, guitar, drums), Sean Glassford (bass, keyboards, drums), Keil Corcoran (drums, keyboards, vocals) and Patrick Morris (guitar, keyboard, vocals).

The party—complete with streamers, crowd-surfing costumed hype people and a potpourri of twisted visuals and ambient lights spanning the rainbow—provided the perfect escape from the mundane weekday routines humans are prone to fall into.

Wednesday night was all about letting that go.

Even with the night starting out mellow just after 8 p.m., the Reptaliens—a lo-fi, dreamy alt-rock group that has self-described interests in science fiction and transhumanism—also helped turn the Newport into a full-fledged dance hall. With a long-armed, existential creature caressing the band as it ran through tracks like “If You Want,” from its debut LP, FM-2030, Wednesday was just starting to become weird.

With the Reptaliens juicing up the crowd for STRFKR’s first set at Newport, the fellow Portlandians set the bizarre bar pretty high.

But after all, this was a STRFKR show; the last of its tour, actually.

When Hodges, aka Sexton Blake, highlighted the stage with his eccentric pink hairdo, he was joined by his fellow three band members and the voice of British philosopher Alan Watts. The distant Watts appears sampled throughout STRFKR’s work, especially its acclaimed 2011 album Reptilians and some hazy cuts from the three albums (64 songs) worth of material from Hodges’ dying hard drive that were released in 2017.

Leading off with older cuts like “Hungry Ghost” and the slow, melting tempo from Miracle Mile's “Kahlil Gibran’s,” STRFKR quickly brought the audience up to speed with its more current material. Playing almost every night in February and nine performances in a row before coming to Columbus, Wednesday was the finale of an exhaustive run for a group that is expected to bring relentless energy every night.

The beginning third of STRFKR’s set first appeared to show fatigue. But even though you could not blame a band that was wrapping up the final show of its tour’s leg, Hodges and company were far from burned out. Informal vocal production, heavy synth hits, jam-esque breakdowns and pulsating drums, quickly started to map out STRFKR’s cosmos-reaching setlist.

The band’s 2016 release, Being No One, Going Nowhere, represented a more transcendent sound highlighted by a prominent, substantial synthesizer. It also initiated the inception of STRFKR’s dance party. The first two tracks off of the previously mentioned LP—“Tape Machine” and “Satellite”—took the mellow mood of the crowd by transforming it with wavy breakdowns. Bodies were flowing back and forth, and STRFKR was entering its most comfortable territory: the state of being weird.

At this point in the show, audience members were truly able to reach that escape that STRFKR’s shows aim to provide by way of “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second.” The dulcet tones from one of the band’s earlier works was a perfect transition for what was about to transpire.

When a wizard cloaked in a silky boxing robe donning the band’s name, a gigantic blow-up swan and the usual space cadets graced the stage, the room’s groove grew enormously.

Although outer space was not an option Wednesday night, the performers the band brought onstage continuously and rambunctiously found their way floating across the audience. Their carefree energy, however, was still unmatched by the wide-ranging talents of STRFKR, whose members at this point in the show switched positions and flexed their prowess as multi-instrumentalists.

The chaos that subsequently overtook the Newport was backed by cuts off of the group’s 2009 albumJupiter, especially the transportive, repetitive, dizzy “Medicine” and cover of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” that slaps and gets down harder than any of the other 30-plus takes on the song by other musicians. Aided by erratic streamers and an array of moody, blue, red and green ambient strobes, the final section of STRFKR’s set was as wild as the woman running the ticketbooth had anticipated.

When it came time to bust out one of its more popular cuts, “Open Your Eyes” transported the crowd back to that floating feeling STRFKR curated at the onset of its set. When the lyrics, “Living as somebody else, boy,” fell upon the crowd with a velvet undertone, it became clear why people came out to see this group.

While “Open Your Eyes” brought the audience back down to reality for a second, STRFKR’s encore, which began with “Leave It All Behind,” perpetuated yet again a dynamic pulse. As the 105-minute set navigated between moods, the encore captured the musical essence of the show in two tracks. Closing with “Maps,” the dreamscape created from the jump came full circle.

Music is an escape for so many, and it was evident by the offbeat apparel worn by fans. You may not be able to walk into work with a space helmet—well, unless you  work for NASA—by STRFKR can provide that escape for you after a long day in the office.

That is just what it did at Newport Wednesday night.