I first heard Stars during the fall of senior year in high school. "Ageless Beauty" was a revelation, foreshadowing a deep appreciation for Canadian indie rock and shoegazey pop songs alike. It's one of the those songs that remain just as compelling years after first hearing it, and it's reflective of the longevity and appeal of the band. I've been waiting to see them for ages, and I finally got that chance on Tuesday night. Although they played Town Hall last week, the Music Hall was a more intimate choice, and particularly nice because the band began in Williamsburg. The generally minimal venue was also suitably decorated, with flowers attached to many of the instruments and pictures placed throughout the stage.
Melbourne, Australia's Sally Seltmann opened to a substantially packed floor. Her sparse instrumentals and lovely voice was a nice change of pace after being flooded with guys with guitars over the last week (not that there's anything wrong with that), but things could have been more dynamic. Sally stayed at her piano for the first few songs, but thankfully switched things up, bringing in a backup vocalist and changing over to acoustic guitar during the middle of the set. The one constant was her vocals, which was reminiscent of Camera Obscura at their more contemplative. Apparently, Sally also wrote "1234" for Feist, and that's a valid comparison as well. Unfortunately, she hasn't quite captured the lushness of either artist, although harmonizing with an iPod yielded some volume. I would have liked to see a couple more people on stage. Sally thanked the crowd "for being so quiet," but aren't we supposed to be loud as well?
MySpace: New Buffalo
Official Site: New Buffalo
From a project that began on a computer in a bedroom, Stars has truly grown into a live force. "Take Me To The Riot" began things with authority, the entire band rocking out on the anthemic chorus. But what elevates Stars to indie pop royalty is the incredible dynamic between singers Torquil Campbell and Amy Milan; I've rarely seen two singers so perfect together. Whether trading verses or harmonizing, the duo was remarkable throughout the night. Second song "Set Yourself On Fire" highlighted their dual vocals during its sweeping first half, the lyrical blur of images captured within a bouncing, electronically-tinged beat. Part two brought everything down, with Torq intoned the "twenty years of sleep" refrain amidst swirling ambience. "Elevator Love Letter" remains one of the most sublime pop songs, Amy's effortless delivery buoyed by a soaring chorus. Then things got really interesting.
Torq disappeared off-stage, his disembodied voice asking the crowd, much like during the Memphis show, "Do you want to hear a ghost story?" After an overwhelming affirmative, "The Ghost of Genova Heights" followed, with Torq appearing in a suit embedded with lights. Throughout the night, I was really impressed with how seamlessly songs off of In Our Bedroom After The War slipped in amongst older material. Perhaps it was just the spot-on delivery by the band, but the night has really given me a reason to give the album more time, instead of just staying dazzled by their back catalogue. Still, I was glad that I wasn't the only one feeling nostalgic. Heart's "Look Up" lacked strings, but Torq used a melodica to add that final high note into the mix, and he would also pick up a trumpet when needed. Set Yourself On Fire material was uniformly excellent, from the frantic verbosity of "What I'm Trying To Say" to the elegant swoon of "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead." I couldn't help but grin when Torq altered "Soft Revolution to include the line, "A tape recording of the sound of the Old World Underground" and the band would dedicate another song to "Jimmy and Emily" of Metric. And of course, "Ageless Beauty" was spectacular.
As the night winded down, the band became more introspective. Torq thanked the crowd regularly, and mentioned their Williamsburg roots, talking about their apartment on Driggs Avenue. Amy recalled her beginnings with the band, moving into aforementioned apartment and finding her bedroom draped in pink, to which Torq replied, "Girls like pink." Torq was less sentimental on the follow-up, clarifying that being a band equaled being two alcoholics in matching shirts, to the amusement of the crowd. The epic title track from the new album closed out the main set, but the band returned with "The Night Starts Here" and much my surprise, the downright ancient track "On Peak Hill," which appears on their first album Nightsongs. "Calender Girl" finished one of the greatest shows I have ever been to.
Here's Stars' third appearance on KCRW, recorded on March 23rd, 2005. Enjoy!
2. Ageless Beauty
4. Your Ex-Lover Is Dead
5. One More Night
7. Soft Revolution
8. Calender Girl
Entire Set: MediaFire
Official Site: Stars