There was a time in music when you didn’t get anywhere by doing the same thing as everyone else. The Beatles may have enjoyed a brief taste of stardom off the back of a collection of covers, but it wasn’t until they started writing their own music, and seeing what they could make of it, that they really became legends. For artists like that, it’s not about blending into the crowd, it’s about wearing the most ridiculous outfit and making everyone else in the crowd look right at you.
That attitude was out in full force at Mahtay Cafe on March 10 as Stellar Ash took to the stage with support from The Outlaws of Sherwood. If you can’t even begin to imagine what kind of music bands under those names would play, don’t worry — your guess would probably be wrong, and the right answer is far better than you can possibly imagine.
Watching either one of these bands is like watching fifty bands perform in an hour; the musical influences are so varied, and songs fly from one genre to another at breakneck pace. Lesser musicians would make this feel eclectic, but both bands are as stellar as they come. The Outlaws of Sherwood know their instruments like the backs of their hands, and know musical theory like the backs of their other hands. They live and breathe music, and their setlist feels like an insight into the deeply complicated souls of the band members. In one moment, they’re playing experimental jazz. In the next, they sound like Supertramp. In the next, they’re playing a heavy, Black Sabbath-style groove. It’s a lot to take in, but not a single note feels out of place. The Outlaws of Sherwood are a sight to behold, and while you really ought to know what you’re in for before sitting down to enjoy them, you’ll love them when you do.
Stellar Ash, like their opening act, were an elegant cacophony of hundreds of musical influences, but a wholly different beast. Where the Outlaws of Sherwood turned Mahtay’s community room into a sixties, psychedelic soirée, Stellar Ash made the ceiling melt away, and turned it into an endless abyss of creativity. Their catalogue is as incredible as it is varied. They opened with a cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Running up that Hill’ that could have come from Pink Floyd, and their original material goes everywhere from funk to country to nineties alt-rock. As with the Outlaws of Sherwood, Stellar Ash boasts incredible musicianship from all three of its members, with thrilling vocals, a powerhouse drumbeat, thundering bass riffs and scorching lead guitar work. The venue may have been small, but their sound could have been coming out of the bottom of the Grand Canyon for how captivating it was. Everything about Stellar Ash’s performance hinges on a desire to be larger than life; entire symphony orchestras struggle to sound as complete as this trio of rockers does, and the finest sound engineers on the planet would struggle to capture in a studio what they pull off effortlessly on stage. They, and The Outlaws of Sherwood, could not be more engaging if they tried; except they’re already putting everything they have into their music. They’re ambitious, and they won’t sacrifice their goals for anyone, so if you’re going to a Stellar Ash show, or an Outlaws of Sherwood show, buckle up: you’ll get exactly what you paid for.