Stellastarr* fans, you can exhale now



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Sometime late in the 75-minute tour de force unleashed by Stellastarr* on Friday night at the Troubadour, a healthy mosh pit broke out in the middle of the sold-out room. Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the close quarters, but the combination of artillery-fire percussion and stabbing guitars won. Feet started moving and bodies flying; the punk in post-punk had been italicized.

For old fans of the New York City quartet – and by old I mean those who shouted along to 2003 hits “Jenny” and “My Coco” – it was an ecstatic hour. Stellastarr* hadn’t released an album in four years until “Civilized,” its third disc and its best yet, came out two weeks ago. In fact, they’d played the Troub in early 2008 with the promise of a new album coming soon. Glaciers have melted since. So anticipation was high, and the moment the foursome hit the stage, you sensed a big group exhale that immediately turned to electricity.

Stellastarr’s Pixies-meets-Joy Division aesthetic might not be original enough for them to ever earn any more than a cult following – especially since, with their nasty departure from RCA following their sophomore album in 2005, they’re going it on their own now. But it sure is exhilarating to attend the meetings. Frontman Shawn Christensen, his yowl a little bit more of a yelp these days, said he was gratified “so many of you are singing along to the new lyrics … because I’m not sure I know them all myself.”

Backed by propulsive rhythms from drummer Arthur Kremer and bassist Amanda Tanner, Christensen and Michael Jurin laid down scorched-earth guitars, the frontman repeatedly taking the faithful into his shadow world, and sharing the catharsis. The quartet may be art-schoolers, and other art-schoolers have done what they do (the U.K.’s Editors come to mind), but it never felt like a pose. Christensen knelt to turn 2005’s “Sweet Troubled Soul” into a prayer, or an exorcism; new songs “Tokyo Sky” and “War Child” fairly moved the earth.

You didn’t even have to be in the mosh pit to break a sweat.

Openers Mason Proper, a pop quartet from Michigan, allowed as how it was their first trip to Los Angeles, and it showed. Their set of off-kilter pop was tentative from the start. Go ahead and dip your toes in the ocean, kids, it won’t bite. The other support band, Wild Light, the pride of New Hampshire, aspire to certain grandeur with their pop-rock, but watching them trying to attain it live is like watching four guys try to scale a mountain with dental floss.