One day, Las Vegas musical reviews will all be things we can blame on the Internet. When that happens (i.e., when we’re all old), Team Starkid will probably be the daily 4pm show at some casino just off the strip. And, in that distant future, whatever it is that they are (and “a musical-theater comedy troupe perhaps best known for a spoof musical of Harry Potter and a show about dicks” is still probably the simplest of the vaguely accurate answers available), might actually make some easy-to-explain sense.
Until then, however, it’s probably just best to say that Team Starkid means a hell of a lot to a lot of people, most of whom seem to be between the ages of 14 and 20. And while the group has talent, drive, and some composers who absolutely know how to write a song you can’t resist (even when you very much want to), they really are the last thing on earth you ever expect to see at Irving Plaza or the Gramercy Theater.
They’re not a rock band; they need an editor; not all their performers are at all suited to a venue of that type or scale; and they tend to under-utilize their talented women despite having a legion of female fans and a lot of songs that are designed to, and I think actually do, make young girls feel good about themselves.
But really, Team Starkid’s fans (who are known as Starkids themselves, if you weren’t confused enough already) don’t care about any of that. And neither do their detractors. The whole thing seems to be one of those things that you either have receptor sites for or you don’t, and so the quality details largely just don’t matter.
I pretty much don’t have those receptor sites, and yet, catchy, catchy, catchy, and I may have “Boy Toy” stuck in my head for the rest of my natural existence (which is unfortunate as there are some visuals from the show burned into my brain to go along with that I didn’t need at all; thank you, Joey Richter).
But that lack of receptor sites didn’t stop me from spending all weekend in a cloud of Team Starkid festivities. After not being able to get tickets for a single show (and I wanted in for the Charlene Kaye, who was probably best served of all the performers by the big venue, and Darren Criss factors), I wound up with tickets to all three shows in the NYC-area and an assortment of friends to hang out with — some were in from out of town for the event, while others were dutiful journalists on the job. As a bunch of people largely in our 30s, I think a lot of us guiltily felt a bit too knowing at times to really want to relinquish ourselves to the experience.
The thing about Team Starkid that is super weird for me, is that for the true fans, it’s this incredibly meaningful and joyous thing and the live shows over the last month have just been an amplification of that. But for me the whole thing was actually a little bit melancholy.
That may be, to a certain extent, my natural temperament, but listening to Starkid Meredith Stepien explain, before launching into “Coolest Girl in the World” that one day everyone in the audience would find their “weirdos and magical Darren Crisses too” just kind of made me sad. At fifteen, I wouldn’t have believed her, and I wondered if any of the girls in the audience she was talking to did either.
But I suspect they did. Starkids (the fans) are happy, or at least seem to try hard to be happy. I was sort of a ball of despair at their age, and so, observing their experiences at these shows (for fuck’s sake there was a bubble machine and a streamer cannon) is super weird for me, but I’m certainly glad for them.
Ultimately, the show was a lot of fun, even if it dragged hard in the middle for someone who wasn’t fully committed. Certainly, it was interesting as an event. At three hours in length for the Saturday shows, and four on Sunday — thanks to the presence of The Gregory Brothers, the folks that bring you Auto Tune the News, and a mini-set by Criss — nothing about the experience was about tight narrative. Rather, it was a collection of Internet memes, random hopefulness, in-jokes, and short attention span theater in which everything has meaning, nothing is deadly serious, and everything feels…. mostly really good.
For me, who first started using the Internet back in 1990, Team Starkid is probably most interesting as another step in legitimizing the Internet as a place where things happen and where real connections are forged. It’s an idea that seems obvious to most long-time Internet users and those who have grown up with the technology. But it’s one people outside the digital generation are often suspicious of, questioning whether the friends, creations, and ideas formed and explored here matter.
If Team Starkid can sell out a 21-show tour in minutes (seriously, getting tickets for this was hard) and The Gregory Brothers can have me singing the turtle fence song in my kitchen days later, and one day there won’t be anything weird about either of those things? Well, that’s a paradigm shift worth noting.
Ultimately, though, the shows turned me introspective towards the moments in which I was young enough for all my friendships to be easy and desperately intense. I had no idea what college would be and was just sure that a chosen family was waiting for me, easy and instant. It made me wish a little bit that I could go back to that moment and have the experiences of my teens and twenties with a more open heart — and with a bit more wisdom and luck — than I actually did.
This, of course, was aided and abetted by Criss’s more wrenching moments on stage (“Home” on Saturday and the whole of his mini-set on Sunday), which reminded me of just how good he is at selling exactly what I’m buying. As a performer he breaks my heart even when my brain is screaming at me about what a damn savvy marketer he is. It’s a little funny, and probably why I’m never more interested by what he’s got on offer than when he’s performing songs either explicitly about fame and fannishness (“Sami” and “Sophomore”) or arguably repurposed to be about same (“Teenage Dream”, “Home”, “When You Wish Upon a Star”).
For most of the audience, there’s a damn good chance that Team Starkid and their very many friends was their first concert experience. I hope they look back at it fondly when they’re checking out that review in Vegas in thirty years. Certainly, I suspect it’ll all make more sense in the narrative of their lives than my own first concert experiences, which included The Eurythmics (so cool, but I was nine and my parents were just dragging me along so they could go), Starship (I know, I know), and A-ha for my 13th birthday.
Even when they were happening, I knew those shows had no particular place in the story of me; I suspect for Starkids the experience of seeing this tour has been entirely different and will, actually, probably matter a great deal to their personal stories, at least for a little while.
I hope so.
It seems like a pretty neat damn thing to actually have receptor sites for.