For one of the biggest shows of his career, Ryan Star wanted to do things right. After having to reschedule from a Thanksgiving-week slot to the live-music doldrums of mid-January, Star brought both his musical and natural family to make the night special.

Proving Star’s family theme worked, the crowd showed familiarity with each opener, starting with fellow New York band Gambit, who played to one of the fuller crowds that a first-slot band will see at Webster Hall this year. The five-piece blended a dance-based backbeat accented by some spacey synth (which matched the stage’s starry background extremely well) while lead singer Lyle Kamesaki worked pop-punk style (just a microphone, no instruments) lead singer duties. The catchy band finished their set with a song about Long Island, “This Town,” which fittingly featured a cheer-spawning guest appearance from Long Island and New York City pop scene figurehead Ido Zmishlany, of Lion of Ido.

Up next was Ryan Star’s long time friend (since the preschool carpool days, according to Star) Hesta Prynn.  Her quicker, stranger style increased the movement in the crowd as she belted out wild notes while vogue-ing around the stage in a tattered shirt and scarlet hair (no doubt a partial nod to the novel she molded her stage name from). Her jauntiest moments were her best, especially when she let out a few crisp rap-like verses, highlighted best in a much too under-appreciated cover of the Butthole Surfers’ classic “Pepper.”

Changing the pace again was the arena-ready Hot Chelle Rae, who sported excellent Slash-worthy guitar solos, classic three-part vocals, and a magnetic lead singer in R. K. Follese.  While the first two openers got the crowd moving in different ways, Follese went for the proverbial throat by not only teaching and encouraging sing-along parts, but by hopping in the crowd himself to really set the stage for Star.

In a flash of strobe lights and guttural screams, Ryan Star exploded onto the stage for his headlining act. While not your typical pretty-boy front-man (if anything he looks like he just hopped off a Harley), his opening songs were only eclipsed in energy by the screams of the female fans who had crowded the front of the room since before Gambit even played. Star’s sound could easily have been written off as a Daughtry knock-off, but it was more than that. Reflecting the dance-ier elements in the openers he chose, some of his songs branched into almost dance-rock territory, yet always with a strong rock backbone. His attention to pop showed in other ways, too, as he covered the Beatles’ “We Can Work Out” and R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion,” as well as slipping other musical references in to other songs (like a verse of the Bed Intruder “song”).

His quieter moments rang true, with acoustic songs like “11:59″ stealing temporarily the brash energy of the crowd.  He also took these moments to thank the crowd, point out his affection for the openers, pull audience members onstage, and even mention that his sister’s bridal party was in attendance on the eve of her wedding.  In true rock fashion, once the more poignant moments had settled, he ramped things back up again with ear-shattering rockers like “Start a Fire.”

Ryan Star

Hot Chelle Rae

Hesta Prynn

Gambit

WORDS & PHOTOS BY SEAN O’KANE