Saint Motel is the autumn of bands. Where Taylor Swift might be summer, swathed in youthful pretension and star-power, and HAIM is probably spring, cute and off-kilter, Saint Motel is hipster pop — popular enough to be playing the historic Fillmore in San Francisco, but not selling out the Oracle; popular enough to have a shtick but not to constrict themselves to it.
The Fillmore is not a venue that often houses shticks. A lot of the bands that play there are smaller, at the tops of the indie charts, but relegated to the indie charts nonetheless, such as Waxahatchee, Atlas Genius, Lucius, Courtney Barnett — hailed by Pitchfork, not Rolling Stone.
But the atmosphere bubbling up in the Fillmore last Friday night was more akin to that in the front rows of a Swift show — there were some sloppy drinkers, some jittery preteens, some stoic super fans — an overwhelmingly younger crowd. A large screen hung down the back of the stage, playing a reel of vaguely-1980s fake advertisements — every so often the reel would pause and a Saint Motel title screen would pop summoning tremendous cheers from the audience, not at all worn out from the previous five times.
It wasn’t until Saint Motel was actually posited on the stage for the show to take the shape you’d expect.
Sporting John Lennon circular sunglasses, a ‘70s vest and collared shirt, and a center-part haircut, lead singer A/J Jackson drove the energy for the band’s performance, even from behind his keyboard and mic stand where he crooned with charisma — “You’re just a junkie craving one more plastic fix,” or “You’ll swear you taste me in the salt of your skin.”
While the screen behind them played interactive clips and flashed occasional song lyrics — a feature of the saintmotelevision interactive album — Jackson danced wildly in front of his bandmates, including Aaron Sharp on guitar, Dak Lerdamornpong on bass, and Greg Erwin on drums.
It seemed at first very polished, very high-key, for the indie band, but the band members pulled it off well. The stage show was a little bit gimmicky, which in a way, is Saint Motel’s shtick — the band is a little bit ‘80s, a little bit rainbow pop sparkle, a little bit edgy. The mishmash of colored spotlights and cymbals works.
And the audience loved it. Everyone was in motion, belting out choruses alongside Jackson’s smooth singing, making the floor give with the weight of their jumping.
The band seemed unsurprised at the crowd’s response to their music, but nonetheless let it fuel them. Jackson jumped on top of box in front of his keyboard, pulling the mic from the stand to sing “Born Again,” superimposing his shadow over the projected album cover on the screen behind him as he raised his arms and rocked his body in literal limelight.
Saint Motel left room in its set — between the timed and video clip-filled encore break, and the back track sing-alongs — to change things up, to bend the plan. The dichotomy between what was planned out and what wasn’t, was not jarring, but instead endearing.
Long brass improvised solos and Jackson’s stage exit during the band’s final tune — “My Type,” of course — were unexpected blips of fun in an otherwise smooth blanket of fun. In essence, that is Saint Motel in a nutshell: full of unexpected little quirks, but assuredly a blast to watch.
Contact Olivia Jerram at [email protected].