Alva Star played a powerful set of traditional folk and classical rock music, at times calling to mind the music of Semisonic, The Strokes, Weezer and the Gin Blossoms. With lead guitarist and songwriter John Hermanson 93, formerly of Storyhill, providing streamlined vocals, Brian Roessler and Erik Applewick playing dueling bass guitars, and Peter Anderson providing reliable drumbeats, Alva Star is a well-balanced and strongly structured quartet.
Hermanson kicked off Friday's concert with a solo rendition of "Girlfriend," a bittersweet ballad off of the bands 2001 album "Alligators in the Lobby." Most of the audience sat transfixed as Hermansons clear and piercing voice, accompanied by the dreamily detached sound of his electric guitar, echoed across the empty stage.
The rest of Alva Star then joined their successful frontman onstage and kicked off their set, which alternated between mellow, low-key ballads and upbeat, rhythmic jam sessions. The band played several tunes from "Alligators," including the somber "74," which chronicled the time-zone change that occurs when one drives over a specific Missouri River crossing in South Dakota. Two other songs from the album, "Beautiful" and "Alva Star," were enjoyable in spite of some moments during which the drums and bass overpowered Hermansons sharp vocals.
Aside from playing selections from "Alligators," the band gave the audience a sampling of tunes from their latest effort, a compilation CD set for release in January or February of 2004. The mix included "Girl in the Tornado" and "Escalator." Though Hermanson seemed pleased to inform his audience of the new album, he jested that he wasnt entirely proud of the upcoming release, which was produced by Philip Morris.
"The album will be going out to 3 million smoking adults," Hermanson said, "so I decided that Id donate all the money [we make from the album] to charity. The charity I found was a struggling rock band called Alva Star."
Hermanson, a St. Olaf graduate who began performing in college with his friend and classmate Chris Cunningham 93 (initially as "Chris and Johnny," later as "Storyhill"), is the reason Alva Star is better than the average garage band. Hermansons thoughtful lyrics and soulful melodies create an intimate (though slightly processed) sound of which most "Storyhill" devotees would approve.
Though Hermanson and Cunningham parted ways in 1997 due to artistic differences (they reunite for the occasional tour), Hermansons departure from folk has not been a forfeited venture. His eclectic take on rock music with Alva Star, though not necessarily an improvement upon Herm-anson's patented "Storyhill" sound, is worthy of listeners attention and praise.