Don’t let the gray skies fool you. Other than sunshine and a swimming pool with lots of inflatable vehicles, Starlabfest ’11 had everything an early August BBQ should have: sweaty conditions, free food, a nine-band concert, 80’s nostalgia and refreshingly uneventful visits from policemen.
I wasn’t in attendance at the 2010 ‘Fest, but one might imagine that this year’s shindig was a little more relaxing for the organizers. After all, last year’s event was the “Save Starlab” Fest – less of a rock n’ roll party for the sake of rock n’ roll partying and more of a scene-wide S.O.S. to save one of Greater Boston’s last great DIY spaces.
    For those who don’t know, Starlab is a rehearsal space in Union Square, Somerville that hosts some famously cramped, dark and noisy shows in the basement. That very basement was sick with water damage last year, and Starlabfest was born out of a need to cover the costs of repairs. Donation boxes were once again strategically placed around the Starlab parking lot this year, but the money was collected mainly to cover minor repairs at Starlab and gas for the touring bands. This time, there was no looming sense of “we-are-totally-fucked-if-we-don’t-get-enough-cash.”
    I got there in time to see Trabants open the action with some Nevada desert surf rock (don’t ask me how one surfs in a desert. That’s just what they sound like, okay?) It’s amazing how a twangy guitar, a standup bass and some neckties can transform a parking lot next to a used radiator store into a scene from a John Lynch movie.

    Up next was Fedavees. I have to admit, for the first tune or so, it felt like something was missing from their strange brew of hazy garage-psych. That was until Movers & Shakers drummer and Starlabfest sound-guy Reid tinkered with the PA system and got Fadavees’s vocals to sound the way they are presumably designed to: like an angsty stoner ghost haunting the ocean floor.
    After stepping away for one of my dozen-or-so trips to feed the meter that day, I decided to check out some of the extracurricular activities of Starlabfest ’11. Inside the “complex,” there was a rapidly depleting beverage cooler in the basement, and a handful of people already waiting in line to break the seal. Outside, there was a yard sale with (as you might expect) lots of records, DVD’s, VHS tapes, dead animal parts and other toys.

    I was just getting over the frustration of missing out on a WWF Ultimate Warrior jigsaw puzzle that some lucky asshole snagged for a dollar before I saw it when Sleepy Very Sleepy opened their set. The first of two bands on the bill that call Starlab home (three if you count former ‘Lab-dwellers Girlfriends), SVS was playing what will likely be their second-to-last show before parting ways at summer’s end.  But far from looking like a band who’s already checked out, the Sleepy’s pulled off the impressive feat of wresting attention away from a table full of free ice cream and hot dogs.

    As you can tell from the video (if not the band name alone), following the slow-and-tranquil strains of SVS with a decidedly grind-y metal set from Columbus, OH’s Locusta was… quite a change of pace. But damned if Locusta didn’t lug a healthy-looking (numbers-wise, anyway) swarm of longhairs towards the stage and -- along with local metaleros Ramming Speed, who played next -- illicit some spirited headbangs even from folks who looked like they wouldn’t know a Bathory song from a Cuisinart set to julienne (in fairness, I love me some Bathory and even I can’t tell the difference sometimes).

    The next slot belonged to Earthquake Party, who represented another abrupt stylistic shift (although keyboardist/singer Mallory was wearing a pretty thrashtastic bullet belt). With temperatures beginning to cool and the crowd filling out with folks who were either working or too hungover to get anywhere before 6pm, the hook-heavy post-grunge power trio served notice that Starlabfest was just getting warmed up.

    Maybe it had something to do with indie-pop buzz-bringers Girlfriends making their glorious return to the Starlab parking lot at that moment, but the summer fun switch was hiked up yet another notch as some chalk-wielding go-getters thought “why not?” and started an (at-times hypercompetitive) game of Four-Square. I did not participate for fear of flashbacks to little-jewish-boys-daycamp-trauma from long ago. I did, however, get a nice video of Girlfriends.

    Co-headliners and primary hosts Movers & Shakers went on next, welcoming the still-expanding crowd to their stomping grounds with a high-energy set of rough-and-tumble roots rock. The folks near the front expressed their appreciation for the talent and hospitality by stirring up a cheerful hybrid of dance and mosh throughout the set.

    It was my understanding that this had been the penultimate performance of the day, with Spirit Kid set close things out next. I was proven wrong by a marching band parading up from Prospect Street in various-degrees-of-ragged-looking formal wear. Who were they? Where they supposed to be there or did they just show up? I don’t know. I’m just some guy with a camera.

    With daylight all but gone, some helping hands commandeered a few table lamps from inside Starlab to lend some visibility to the fest-capping performance from Spirit Kid.  By now it was dark enough to walk into a PA monitor if you weren’t careful. But no sooner had Spirit Kid finished their set than some folks began setting up heavy-duty lighting for an apparent film shoot. I didn’t stay long enough to find out whether this shoot would include Mark Wahlberg in a Darth Maul costume like that film shoot in Davis Square back in June, but it quickly became apparent that the scene would feature Movers & Shakers dressed to the nine (that is, if keyboardist Amy’s maid outfit counts as “to the nine”).
    Inside, I caught up with one of the main organizers of Starlab, Movers & Shakers guitarist/singer Marc, before he subbed out his flannel for a three-piece suit. After several hours of making sure sounds were checked, cooler were stocked and tarps were not abducted by the wind, you might think that the dude would want to chill out and have a drink in front of an air conditioner somewhere. On the contrary, Marc seemed like he was excited to get back out there. On a day like today, it was easy to see why.