If you wear a fringe-sleeved shirt onstage, you’re bound to get it tangled in your tuning knobs—but this is of little concern to Judson Kolk. The guitarist and lead singer of Philadelphia rock outfit Godcaster flits around so swiftly, his tassels don’t have time to snarl. Calling Godcaster a “rock” band feels a little inaccurate, due to their theatrical set last Friday at ALPHAVILLE, as well as their clear distinction as a “sassy sassy rock band” on their Bandcamp page. And sassy they were; but also jazzy, and funky, and spastic, and dripping with riffs straight from the Nile Rodgers school of disco guitar.
It already seemed like a happy accident that Godcaster were opening the sold-out Beths show, considering the distant planet they’d traveled from. But even within their own group, its five members looked as though they’d materialized from five different bands—a refreshing visual given the proliferation of curated “lewks” we’ve come to expect from artists. These guys surely gave it some thought individually, but there was no overarching motif tying their styles together. You had Kolk, the rakish rock ‘n’ roll angel; Von Lee, a cherry-haired singer and flutist who was prone to convulsive fits of dancing (at one point she charged into the crowd carrying a single white clog); keyboardist David Mcfaul, rocking out like Weird Al on an arena tour; Bruce Ebersole, the laidback bassist; and Sam Pickard, a rail-thin drummer with sticker tattoos and a perpetual sneer. When they played, all that visual dissonance merged seamlessly in the music they made; a rattled cocktail of jam band, James Chance and the Contortions, and Sweet. Within thirty seconds of their set it was clear we were all in for a goofy time, complete with prog rock synthesizer and fractured flute solos. Within three minutes, I wished I could hire them for a house party.
Had it been a house party, Godcaster would have been the band in the sweaty basement, while the Beths would have ruled up on the rooftop. The New Zealand quartet couldn’t have differed more from their opening act, but in ways that only strengthened both bands’ performances. The Beths are a barebones, no-frills band, and to their benefit. They don’t talk much, and when they do, their self-effacing Kiwi humor makes up for their apparent clumsiness with stage banter, which twice consisted of a glib “Hi. We’re the Beths” via bandleader Elizabeth Stokes.
Their conversational abilities may not shine onstage, but their music can be blinding. Played live, the group’s modest catalog has space to stretch out, turn up, and bounce back from the crowd, who sang along to every chorus. The Beths opened with “Future Me Hates Me,” a biting slice of power pop and the title track off of their debut album, which they played the majority of. “Future Me Hates Me” is easily one of the best songs on that record, and hearing it live solidifies why that’s so. It’s got that one-two punch of great pop-rock: candied, blissful guitar hooks and candid self-loathing, both so well integrated that it’s difficult to separate the sugar from the spite. The same can be said for the anthemic “Little Death,” with its towering pop-punk riffs and succinct but colorful lines like, “you make me feel three glasses in.”
There was something wonderfully unpretentious about this gig, which is perhaps why it felt suited for a party. The Beths are a band unafraid to play power chords, sing about love, and do it all without a scrap of ego. Toward the end of their set, after repeatedly thanking the crowd, Stokes deadpanned: “Now we can go back to New Zealand and tell everyone we played a sold-out show in New York.” She paused and thought about it. “Maybe they’ll give us milk discounts or something.”