Of all the lip service paid in rock 'n' roll, nothing gets more than dance. Each and every lead singer who has ever been and ever will be croons with only one object -- and usually only one carefully-worded plea -- in mind: get up. Shake it, pop it, lock it, drop it, just get your ass on the floor. Or so they say.
For all these potent and oft-repeated requests, most bands pay less attention to dance than to, say, their merch table. Dancers are often left to fend for themselves at flaccid shows, drowned out among stock-still legions of head-nodders and foot-tappers. Meanwhile, the frontman -- most often barely moving himself -- screams from the stage for the fans to get down. Isn't anyone listening?
Fortunately, Katie Eastburn and her avant-garde compatriots are. Eastburn, herself a lead singer of the LA-based band Young People, has heard the clarion call and taken her army to the streets. Joined by LA fixture Jane Paik (Leg & Pants Dans Theeatre), actress/filmmaker Lindsay Beamish, and some of the best and brightest in rock, Eastburn premiered Starter Set.
Both a touring company and a DVD, Starter Set is an experience that must be seen to be believed. It may change the way you think about modern dance. It may change the way you think about rock music. It may even get the crowds to sway.
The brand of dance Eastburn, Paik, and Beamish practice is hard to pin down. It's part high-brow expressionism, complete with cheeky Martha Graham references, and part art school dance party. It revisits both the after-prom and the Odyssey. No one quite knows what to say, and to Eastburn, that's just fine. The response, says Eastburn, "has always been 'thank God, it's something different.'" Inconclusive as such an explanation is, Starter Set's fans need no convincing. The troupe has already performed with the Gossip, the Blow, Xiu Xiu, numbers, and is currently touring with Deerhoof. Miranda July praises them breathlessly.
If you can't make it to the live show, the Starter Set DVD will leave you with plenty to think about. What are those girls in short-shorts gesturing about? Who will win in the fight between Eastburn and a gusty desert wind? How does a topless '70s gestalt therapy session look? If it sounds various and a touch ridiculous, it is. But it's also strangely affecting. Eastburn stresses that it shouldn't be taken too seriously. "If I make a move and it makes me laugh, I know it's good," she says. "It's surprising, it's unexpected. Sometimes the audience is like, are we allowed to laugh? It's modern dance, it's supposed to be really serious. But what I hope people get from it is that it's fun."
Stone-faced crowds, take note: you can move, you can laugh, you can even like it. "The musical aesthetic is very much in line with what people have turned out to see," says Eastburn, "and the dance is very accessible. The dance we make reflects the fact that we're involved in other stuff. So it is accessible, it is the kind of thing where you're like, wow, I could do that, too!" And if all of that isn't incentive enough, there's always the tried and true selling point. "On a very simple level," says Eastburn philosophically, "it's cute girls dancing, and that's always fun."
Starter Set open for Deerhoof on Jan. 30 at the Bowery Ballroom.