Escape at Cargo: Lizards, astronauts and a big bunny, oh my

Tahoe Onstage

STRFKR has the Cargo Concert Hall up in arms during a memorable show with the Reptaliens.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Michael Smyth

Lizards, astronauts, a giant bunny and other assorted characters graced the stage along with a pair of Portland, Oregon’s finest indie-pop dance acts at Cargo Concert Hall on Sunday night. Pairing synth-rooted dance music with fantasy and sci-fi theatrics created a lovely Sunday escape before a return to the rigors of Monday’s real world.

The serendipitous union of Portland musicians Cole and Bambi Browning, who met on a basketball court filming a music video for a band that didn’t even exist, led to the genesis of Reptaliens. The name, which I assume is a mash-up of “reptiles” and “aliens,” makes perfect sense once you witness their theatrical onstage performance accented by a human-sized lizard in a suit ominously brandishing a cross.

Tahoe Onstage

Don’t look back: It’s the Reptaliens.

While their compositions offer flowing, dreamy melodies and bass lines, and some songs predictably match lyrically, it’s the tunes that deal with much darker subjects like “666 Bus” and “Satan’s Song” that really struck me as unique. The Brownings’ airy presentations and generally upbeat tone doesn’t alter, and remains positive when most artists would create a more shrouded presentation for such subjects.

It’s a cool little trick that didn’t feel awkward or forced, yet still delivered its message. Julian Kowalski’s guitar riffs added a little bit of a Coldplay feel in their steady undercurrent, and occasional solo injection provided just enough gnashing to cut through the sweetness. This is a cool little project that made their first trip to the Biggest Little City, and I hope we see them again soon.

Fellow Pacific Northwesterners STRKFR, by contrast, have carved out 10 successful years and a loyal following.  Their brand of punchy, synth-driven psychedelia dance pop is a little more serious and self-absorbed than their current wide-eyed touring partners.

Joshua Hodges, serving as frontman on synthesizer and guitar, was clad in a pink dress and wig, oversized winter jacket and round, mirrored sunglasses. It looked as if the late Kurt Cobain had passed out naked in a box of 1950s upper middle class Goodwill donations and cobbled something together to climb out and find some coffee. Keil Corcoran offered his talents in no such getup, spending the majority of the the show behind the kit with a drum synth in tow, as well.

STRFKR played a bigger and far more brooding set with Shawn Glassford’s heavy bass lines, wrapped in melodic keyboards, and guitar weaving in and out of prominence. I would have preferred a little more engagement from Hodges, who seemed to be in his own world all evening. But the fans, who danced and took selfies and videos from the get go, didn’t seem to care.

There was plenty of participation from the supporting cast of astronauts in full spacesuits, who took to crowd surfing sessions, and also didn’t seem to care. They dug all of the distractions from the actual performance and let the auditory and lighting experience wash over them in the bouncing sea of bodies. Cargo’s relatively small stage, which was often flush with a variety of odd beings, included the emergence of a giant bunny sporting a technicolor cape adorned with “STRFKR” and a magic wand, commanded roars from the crowd, pushing the whole experience over the top.

– Michael Smyth

Tahoe Onstage

Tahoe ONstage

STRFKR sends Reno into outer space on Sunday, Jan. 21.
Michael Smyth / Tahoe Onstage

About Michael Smyth

Michael Smyth moved to Reno in 2007 after living more than 40 years in the Bay Area. In addition to going to live shows, he enjoys golf, skiing and fly-fishing. Check out his website

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