Entering Minneapolis’ Varsity Theater, fans were handed a clear plastic card and a tiny Ziploc bag. The tiny print on the card explained that fans attending the Starset Demonstration were selected to become early adopters of the Brain Machine Interface (BMI) technology. The bag contained three tiny reflective stickers to wear tonight, similar to the BMI chips that could be implanted. Looking closer, there were also instructions on downloading the Starset App (for Apple users) that could be used for an augmented reality experience by pointing your phone at the Starset symbol on special posters located throughout the venue. Admittedly a casual Starset fan (before tonight anyway), I knew immediately that tonight would be a special concert experience.
A BRILLIANT LIE
Orlando, Florida’s A Brilliant Lie was the first opening band. With the show beginning earlier than the posted 6pm start time, I missed the beginning of their set waiting to enter. We also could not get photos due to the early start. The Varsity was already packed as the female-fronted rockers energetically finished their performance. I heard I missed a well-done cover of Toto’s “Africa” but was happy to at least catch the end of the band’s set. The lead singer exclaimed at the end, “We are A Brilliant Lie. If you did not like us, then we are Nickelback!” to many laughs and “Nickelback: chants from the crowd. A Brilliant Lie appears to be a band ready to build on their strong following in the Southeast and earn new fans nationwide.
Next up was none other than Japan’s most prolific rock artist, HYDE (Hideto Takarai). The 50-year-old is the lead vocalist for two of the most popular Japanese rock bands, L’Arc~en~Ciel and Vamps. Earlier this year, he released his first solo album in 13 years, anti, which he sings almost entirely in English. Having seen HYDE play one of his first US shows earlier this year as part of his initial 13-stop US tour, I was happy to see he was able to visit more US cities as part of Starset’s tour. HYDE took the stage and screamed, with the crowd screaming right back. He opened with one of his top singles, “Who’s Going to Save Us”. Dressed in a long black coat and black gloves, his mask, and later white face makeup, stood out along with the florescent green and orange symbols on stage banners. Four masked supporting musicians did not let their unique face coverings limit the energy of their performance. His second song, “After Light”, included several cool chants by his supporting band.
After asking Minneapolis fans how they feel (and pronouncing Minneapolis as uniquely as I’ve heard), he told them he wanted them to feel “as crazy as f…”. He screamed into a megaphone for “Sick” and then asked fans to sing along to “Another Moment”, which proved easy for us as our part went simply “Ah oh”. For “Mad Qualia”, HYDE stood on the floor to be at face level with his fans. The song started with its strong drum and guitar intro with the drummer standing to urge fans to make noise. Saying they had one song left, HYDE thanked Starset for inviting them on tour and asked fans to sing along to “Ordinary World” if they knew it. Many held cell phone lights overhead and swayed to the heavy closing ballad. This Japanese rock icon did a great job of introducing himself to Minneapolis and tonight’s show was running way ahead of schedule with two bands in the books by 7pm.
Palisades and Starset appear to be a great match as this is the second tour that the band has provided support for the headliner. Although a band since 2011, Palisades played songs exclusively from their last two albums. They opened with “War” and “Shed My Skin” from 2018’s Erase The Pain, and elicited a well-deserved mention to Aaron Rosa for his fierce drumming on these initial songs. Lead singer Lou Miceli had to sit out this tour with Starset for a medical issue with his vocal cords. But Brandon Elgar filled in so well that I didn’t even notice. Nice job Brandon! Next, from their 2017 self-titled album, the song “Cold Heart (Warm Blood)” featured sweeter vocals by Elgar before he told fans they were going to play a heavier song next if it was ok by them. The stage lights turned orange and red, fitting for the drastically different “Through Hell” from the same album. At the end of the song the rest of the band exited the stage leaving Elgar to finish on his own. The stage turned black before the singer began singing “Fade”, unaccompanied, before his bandmates soon joined in to crank up its energy. Fast clapping started “Fall” from the earlier album before Elgar dedicated the next song, “Ways to Disappear”, to all that deal with crippling anxiety, like he does. “How about Matt and X on guitars,” commended Elgar about guitarists Xavier Adames and Matthew Marshall.
Asking if there were any Linkin Park fans in the audience, the band played a great cover of “One Step Closer” with it now clicking that Elgar’s vocals do somewhat remind me of the great Chester. As a big LP fan, this was definitely a favorite part of the show for me and apparently not played routinely by Palisades. The fill-in frontman’s next question for the audience was if anyone here had been let down before. Their popular “Let Down” from the 2018 album included Elgar singing “I’m so good for you” with the crowd responding, “But you’re so bad for me.” Telling us they are so happy to be on the road with Starset again, Palisades concluded with the high-energy title track from their current album, “Erase the Pain”, with its catchy chorus, clapping, and jumping to sprint through the finish line shortly before 8pm.
War / Shed My Skin / Cold Heart (Warm Blood) / Through Hell / Fade / Fall / Ways to Disappear / One Step Closer (Linkin Park Cover) / Let Down / Erase the Pain.
The headliner’s show began with something integral to Starset demonstrations (shows), video. This video accompanied the spoken “A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE FUTURE” that also opens the band’s new album, Divisions, that sets the stage for the album and also the demonstration. “MANIFEST” followed, just like it does on the album. FYI, I’m not shouting, the song titles on the new album are spelled in all caps). The band appeared in their dystopian outfits featured in their Divisions promos. It was not just the core foursome of Dustin Bates (vocals), Ron DeChant (bass) , Brock Richards (guitar) , and Adam Gilbert (drums), but also two female string musicians, Zuzana (cello) and Siobhán Cronin (violin). Their playing is instrumental in the band’s self-described cinematic rock sound which was made clear as the pair was placed front stage on platforms to each side of Bates as they continued with the heavy strings on hit song “Monsters” from the band’s second album, Vessels.
Bates asked if anyone has listened to their new album, Divisions, and received a large roar. Starting “ECHO”, the active video screen behind the band turned brighter white and more colorful as guitarist Richards and bassist DeChant moved to the front of the stage with the girls moving back. The screen would also show video feeds of the band members from small cameras mounted in places such as the Bates’ microphone, DeChant’s keyboard, or Gilbert’s drums. A short fictional commercial for that marvelous BMI implant played next reminding us we were attending an atypical concert for a group whose albums and demonstrations are just one segment of their Starset Society project. I won’t lie, I got a bit sidetracked tonight checking out the Starset Society website. What other rock band publishes novels and Marvel comic books, like “The Prox Transmissions” or discusses, explores, and invites commentary on real world issues stemming from accelerating technologies? I guess bands started by PhD candidates like Dustin Bates. While I initially dismissed this storyline as strictly a band gimmick, it seems just as likely that the band is the promotional front for Starset’s deeper, societal purpose.
Prompted by the question, “Does anyone know this song?,” the crowd immediately sang “Higher, Higher” to the pounding “WHERE THE SKIES END”, with hands in the air. Bates told us, “When you are on tour, you never know how many people will show up. Tonight is sold out. Thank you for being here. It’s going to be a fun night, even if it’s Sunday.” Continuing, Bates asked, “Who discovered us with our first album, Transmissions? Or was it Vessels? Or who discovered us with our new album, Divisions?” Bates also made it clear they welcome fans that just enjoy their music along with those that dive deeper into the Starset Society. After the crowd sang loudly to “Ricochet” from Vessels, Bates commented, “It means so much to hear you sing along. It sounds great hearing you sing it back”.
A cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” was next and fit so well with the rousing cello and violin work of Zuzana and Cronin. Plus, Starset, added their own little touches to differentiate it from the original. Sometimes I’m not too keen on covers but this one was flat out awesome. Another video transmission cut in with a female announcer discussing technical problems with the demonstration before “TELEKINETIC”, “PERFECT MACHINE”, and “TRIALS” concluded “Act One” of the demonstration. During “Trials”, Richards and DeChant waved Starset flags during portions of the song, while at the end it was Bates waving his flag in the center.
The band exited as a lengthy video infomercial for the BMI explained how everything you experience could be transmitted to the Architecture, enhanced, and then sent back to your brain for altered viewing or retrieved later on to re-experience any moment in your life with all the details. Certainly scary. This was interrupted again by the female commentator before a 5 minute timer started until the demonstration rebooted. After this 5 minute intermission, the band returned with Gilbert, Richards, and DeChant in pressurized space suits they have worn on past tours. The string players wore mid-thigh black dresses, and Bates was in a white shirt and bowtie. “Welcome to Act Two,” the frontman stated as they dipped into their first album, Transmissions, to play “Carnivore”. This song features violin and cello and it continued with a brief instrumental segment by Zuzana and Cronin transitioning to the melody from AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”, while Richards and DeChant beat on additional drums positioned on stage for them.
Bates asked if we liked heavy songs (as had Palisades), and then proceeded with the “Bringing It Down”, with the Second Act filled with early album songs. “OTHER WORLDS THAN THESE” was the exception, and Bates told us he would sing something simple and have us sing it back. He also said they wanted to do something special for us. At the VIP sittings, everyone always requests the acoustic version of “Starfight” but they wanted to play that special version for us all tonight. Another video burst on the screen informing us that “Aston Wise is the Architect. Destroy Aston Wise.” After “Unbecoming”, Bates said, “Thank you. We have one song left. There are two shows on this tour and you might have already found out the last song from our augmented reality posters.” The closer was the bands biggest hit, “My Demons”, from Transmissions. This well-known song had all fans, from deep-rooted Starset Society followers, to casual active rock listeners like me, singing along. You know it. “Oh you make everything okay, okay, okay (Kay, okay, okay).”
Mission accomplished Starset! You and your standalone awesome music, along with your unique demonstration features introduced me to your Starset Society website and intrigued me enough to explore further. Honestly, the impact of technology on society is a crucial issue we should all become more informed about. Visit http://thestarsetsociety.org for more information.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE FUTURE (Spoken) / MANIFEST / Monster / ECHO / WHERE THE SKIES END / Ricochet / Kashmir (Led Zeppelin Cover) / TELEKINETIC / PERFECT MACHINE / TRIALS / ( intermission) / Carnivore / Bringing It Down / OTHER WORLDS THAN THESE / Starlight / Unbecoming / My Demons.