Photo credit: Starcrawler Facebook.
There’s a point, about halfway through Starcrawler’s blistering forty-minute set, when frontwoman Arrow de Wilde contorts her androgynous frame into the infamous ‘spider-walk’ pose from The Exorcist and I have a punk-rock epiphany: ‘This is what it must have been like watching the Ramones at CBGB’s’. It’s the only comparison that feels remotely accurate, both because of the retro-styled racket the band tear through with boundless charisma while on stage and because there are few other bands that can match Starcrawler for sheer, unadulterated thrills. I made a joke before the gig that the band were either going to ‘get huge or get arrested’, and I can now comfortably say that they will definitely achieve, if not one, then both of those things in time.
Rewinding one hour, I’m standing at the foot of the stage in the bowels of Bristol’s favourite seagoing venue with just two other surly old punks; seemingly here to see what all the fuss is about. The room slowly fills with a demographic so mixed, that I can only assume ‘seeing what all the fuss is about’ is why we’re all here. But before the ‘fuss’ strut on stage, Bristol natives No Violet have the task of warming up a crowd still coming in from the cold January air. Even as they start up, scarcely acknowledging the audience, No Violet seem like a strange fit for this gig. There’s no leather jackets or jumpsuits on show, and their grungey riffs and off-kilter Math-Rock breakdowns and rhythms owe more to the 1990’s than the 1970’s but it all works rather well. The beaten-up hand painted guitars covered in glitter and the lead singer’s raw but enjoyably atypical vocal delivery are endearingly DIY, and by the time they leave in a swirl of feedback and noise, the crowd seem rather taken with them. But we all know why we’re here.
As the lights go down and Starcrawler’s rhythm section and absurdly young guitarist (I have to remind myself that Cash is still seventeen) stroll quietly on stage, the crowd cheer as though they’ve been around for years; in reality they’ve been a band for less than two years and their album only came out the day before. Nevertheless, when frontwoman Arrow de Wilde emerges in a white jumpsuit stained with blood, the band tear through the opening one-two punch of Different Angles and Used to Know with all the furious energy of a band who have played together for years. Every thunderous drum beat from Austin Smith comes with laser-guided precision, the basslines of Tim Franco weaving around them expertly. Debut single Ants gets the first big reaction of the night, Cash wrestling with his gloriously unruly guitar sound while the crowd bellow back the slightly absurd line ‘I got ants!’ as a mosh breaks out in the centre of the room.
Starcrawler are a band of few words; de Wilde’s first address to the crowd is a request for Bourbon, and like clockwork a shot is passed to the stage in the next song. Fortunately, their music says plenty. From singles Let Her Be and I Love LA, both of which are received like old favourites, to the explosive Train, where de Wilde drools copious amounts of fake blood from her mouth and spits into the front row (I look like I’ve been in a slaughterhouse by the end of the night) and the swinging chorus’ of Full of Pride; where Cash invites the crowd to ‘get crazy’. Barely pausing for breath between songs, All I Want slows things down a touch with it’s bluesy stomp and heavy drum fills, before the fantastically tongue-in-cheek glam of Pussy Tower sees Arrow on her knees giving ‘head’ to the mic; you just don’t get that at an Ed Sheeran gig, do you? As Cash’s buzzsaw riffs from his three-string guitar start the final number, Chicken Woman, the crowd headbang and throw fists in the air like it’s 1973. Then the frankly unhinged outro pummels anyone not paying attention into submission and de Wilde dives from the stage and crowd surfs to the bar while Cash thrashes wildly across the stage, soloing like a madman before jumping into the mosh himself. It all ends with him pulling Bristol music legend Jeffrey Johns (AKA Big Jeff) on stage to hammer away at Cash’s guitar as Franco and Smith craft an unholy low-end racket.
Mic stands are kicked over, Cash’s guitar looks even more battered than ever, and just as swiftly as they arrived the band disappear again. Forty minutes has never passed so quickly, or with such a thrilling noise. The crowd don’t seem to be sure what they’ve just seen, and it takes Cash coming back on stage to say simply, ‘We’ll be back, now go home’ before everyone starts to file out. Suddenly I’m well aware of what I’ve just seen: a little bit of rock history. Starcrawler may not know it yet, but tonight they have well and truly arrived.