“Let's just get this opening band over with!” an impatient Mindless Self Indulgence fan complained from the front row of the Electric Factory stage in Philadelphia on Sunday, April 14.
Once the otherworldly members of Starwood took the stage at 8 p.m., however, this cry was quickly silenced and replaced with awe. Opening acts, even locals, are often met with indifference or derision, but the Philly-based quintet won the early crowd over with their theatrical cyber art rock that “stole the show” even before the rest of it began, in another fan's words.
The band has roots in Scranton, but one wouldn't know it when its members are in character, dressed in black and silver with shiny, reflective mirrors adorning their futuristic gear. All hidden behind masks or visors, only frontman Gabriel Starwood removed his sparkling helmet to reveal a human face, though he claimed to be a cyborg from the planet Vitrus merely mimicking human emotion through an avatar before breaking into “The Dig.”
The tongue-in-cheek story of saving their planet told through their music in songs like “Plea from a Tailgunner” and “God of the Drones” connected to the largely young goth and raver crowd, many dressed in distinctive outfits of their own. Having only played small bars and clubs up until now, Starwood didn't waste their first big break in front of self-aware MSI fans by keeping things light yet dramatic through Gabriel's peculiar mix of robotic banter with the audience and convulsive dancing.
Culminating their six-song set with “Dr. Robespierre's Cure for the Lonely,” which is to lob off the heads of those with no one to love, and “Love Your Lawnmower,” which asks you to care for the machines that may one day be used to build your own cybernetic parts, the laughs gave way to appreciation for the melody and musicianship behind these tunes that had many buzzing even after the show.
This stood in stark contrast to the subsequent performance by Death Spells, an electronic hardcore duo formed by ex-My Chemical Romance guitarist/backup vocalist Frank Iero along with punk and hardcore multi-instrumentalist James Dewees. With only a guitar and laptop in front of a screen displaying random projected images, the silhouetted pair's odd mix of floor-rumbling beats and piercing screeches confused and bored onlookers coming off the high of a much more engaging and harmonious set.
It took a matter of seconds for Mindless Self Indulgence to correct this, exploding on stage with “Witness” and “Shut Me Up.” Singer Jimmy Urine, dressed in black and white from head to toe, seemed to absorb every bit of energy in the room and push it right back onto the crowd, though his colorful bandmates – guitarist Steve, Righ?, bassist Lyn-Z, and drummer Kitty – helped keep up the dizzying pace.
As flamboyant and irreverent as his lyrics, Urine cracked unpredictable jokes (“I'm not the devil – I'm just a very smart goat!” he said as he donned a pair of red horns) as he bounced around through 20 songs with little time to breathe, though the first few verses of an a capella version of Method Man's “Bring the Pain” from 1999 debut “Tight” was the perfect way to do so.
Despite the official release date of the next Kickstarter-funded album, “How I Learned to Stop Giving a S—t and Love Mindless Self Indulgence,” being May 14, many already knew the lyrics to the six new songs, which blended well with an even mix of selections from the last three records. Turning the floor into equal parts dance party and mosh pit, the synthpunkers ended with “F——t” and “Bitches” before an encore of “Straight to Video.”
Urine stayed long after to sign autographs and take pictures right along with Starwood, showing that you're never too big to hang with the little (but hopefully soon to be big) guy.