Saint Motel brings retro cool to Regency Ballroom in San Francisco

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We are always nostalgic for the past. Considering our high-waisted jeans fashion trends and television shows and films like “Stranger Things” or “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” many of us can agree that much of our modern culture is, in fact, iterations of past eras. And for good reason — why else would we bring back ’80s garb if not for the fact that it is ridiculously cute? 

Music, however, is a different beast. While many millenials and Gen Zers still blast ABBA and Frank Sinatra from their Urban Outfitters record players, you would be hard-pressed to find Justin Bieber or Ariana Grande making a song that’s more similar to “Dancing Queen” than to the latest electronic or hip-hop music. While playing to a sold-out crowd at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco, however, indie band Saint Motel brought a fresh breath of vintage-tinged bops to the EDM society we live in today.

The indie band got its start in 2007, when future lead singer A. J. Jackson and lead guitar Aaron Sharp decided to start a band while attending film school in Los Angeles, later recruiting bass player Dak Lerdamornpong and drummer Greg Erwin. After releasing an EP and full-length album, Saint Motel hit it big in the indie sphere with the EP My Type in 2014, when the EP’s eponymous song “My Type” climbed alternative charts around the globe. Since then, the band has performed at Coachella, on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and all around the world. With its jazzy brass and horn melodies, Saint Motel has become known for its indie pop fused with suave, retro musicality that gives its songs a modern yet nostalgic vibe.

Currently promoting its latest EP, The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: Part 1 — a sliver of its upcoming album that’s being released in parts to emulate the movie trope of a “hero’s journey” — Saint Motel stopped in San Francisco as part of its North America tour. The tour, aptly titled “Motion Picture Show,” was full of homages to some of Hollywood’s classics. If the founding band members’ origins in film school were not already evident with the EP’s theme, the cinephile flag was flying as soon as the iconic “Jurassic Park” theme filled the music hall as an introduction to the band’s entrance. 

Complete with a deep-voiced narrator introducing the protagonist, Jackson came out in full explorer garb, wandering a bit through the pit with special effects akin to the Indiana Jones stunt show at Disney World. Although it was a nontangential segue into the first song, “Cold Cold Man,” the Spielberg entrance made every movie lover’s heart swell, establishing the playful, campy energy that Saint Motel kept up throughout the night.

Although the show was filled with certifiable bops, pleasing a crowd ranging from teenagers to baby boomers, the night’s highlight was when the cinematic-themed show turned to space odysseys, with Jackson crowd surfing in a full astronaut costume on an inflatable spaceship raft. If that is not the most ingenious film nerd way to crowd surf, we don’t know what is. 

Like Levi’s 501 jeans or Hollywood continuously making movies about old Hollywood, Saint Motel’s music feels as if it will never go out of style. The demographic of the night was enough of an indicator that the band’s music appeals to a range of generations. From “For Elise” to “My Type,” Saint Motel’s certifiable bops got the youngsters jumping up and down on the main floor, with the older folks standing up in their seats and clapping along to the beat. Full of amusing, campy gimmicks and costumes, the band not only played its songs, but it also put on a show as timeless as the movies it paid homage to.

Contact Julie Lim at [email protected].