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Art-rock appetite

Star Club is a band that embraces imperfection, raw power and the saxophone

Star Club is reminiscent of the Clash, with their daring genre exploration. Photo credit: Molly Macalpine

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It's kind of hard to predict which instruments will fall into and out of style -- much more so than which genres will keep plugging along. The secret to why this is may be kind of a no-brainer: every instrument is good, when used in the proper context or, more thrillingly, subverted in an unusual context. Accordions fell out of fashion in popular music, as did organs, harps, and, most recently, ukuleles. But, in each of those instances, it takes only one innovative mind to shed new light on a musical instrument that we long thought had been relegated to the world of cheesy yesteryear.

Out of all of these cases, the one that most fascinates me is the mountaintop plummet of the saxophone. Once unofficially classified the coolest non-guitar instrument, the saxophone experienced a rapid decline in favor with the hip set, suddenly lumped in with billowy shirts and fedoras on the seduction scale. And this is where pop musicians and audiences erred: the saxophone is sexy, yes, but more than that, it is powerful, imperfect, dirty and sexy. Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street," the Brat Pack vehicle St. Elmo's Fire, and other culprits were inadvertently responsible for framing the saxophone as the choice instrument of oily creeps angling for a ménage à trois.

The saxophone never really went away, of course, but its cultural cache lay in indie acts like They Might Be Giants, Morphine, and, most recently, Ezra Furman. These were artists who were unafraid of reintroducing the cynical masses to the skronking joy of the sax. Needless to say, of course, that a wave of post-modern irony did its part in making this sea change happen, even aiding in a positive reappraisal of goddamn "Baker Street." One more band doing their level best to restore the saxophone's good name is Portland art-rockers Star Club.

When you first listen to Star Club -- as I did, checking out their debut LP, Sixth Avenue Motel -- what you might be first be struck with is the sensation that you're listening to a missing album by the Clash. While the sonic comparisons to the Clash may melt away, what Star Club does share in common with the legendary punk group is their voracious appetite for exploring different genres, mixing them together in a vat, and blasting them out of amps. The saxophone can survive just about any treatment, after all, from funk to glam to lounge to squealing experimental music, and Star Club weave through all of those.

Led by Nate Lown and Marcus Pizotchi (the Internet is fuzzy on who currently rounds out the band), Star Club banks a ton of energy on crafting dynamic songs that go straight for the jugular, with a number of pit stops at the feet. While this may not be traditional dance music, usually, Star Club likes to get your body moving. With the sound cranked to top volume, there's little room for subtlety in Star Club's ambitions for dance, coming at you with sharp guitars, overdriven bass, combative drums and that bellowing sax. This is art-rock being deployed in its proper state, utilizing off-beat methods to make you have a more meaningful experience than falling for any old pop confection.

For all of Star Club's idiosyncrasies, there's precious little pretension to be found on Sixth Avenue Motel. When they want to get you, they get you; when they're done, they're done. Preaching, philosophizing, getting you to rethink the way you know music -- this doesn't concern Star Club. Going around the side entrance of rock music and still making you feel is what they do best.

STAR CLUB, w/ Wave Action, Hardly Boys, Emma Lee Toyoda, 6 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 25, all ages, cover TBA, Le Voyeur, 404 4th Ave. E., Olympia, 360.943.5710,

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