It is not just spring in the air; it is also the beginning of what is bound to be a plentiful concert season. The bands now willing to tour across Canada are plentiful – as opposed to the more meagre few that bravely toured up north over the winter months. Stars were on a bit of a hiatus from touring while lead female vocalist Amy & her partner Steve (fellow band member) welcomed their daughter Delphine into the world. The hiatus from touring however did not in any way mean a break from writing and recording. Late last year Stars toured with Metric following the September release of their 6th full length Album, The North.
I’ve loved Stars since my chance/impulse purchase of their 2004 release “Set Yourself on Fire.” I’ve been hopelessly addicted to their sound and performances ever since. When I saw Stars open for Metric in November, I felt slightly robbed of a more full set; I wanted more time with both their newer and older material. Needless to say, there could not be a more perfect pairing than Stars playing a full set at the Commodore, with Vancouver-natives Said the Whale opening for them.
The energy level at the Commodore for this show was unreal. The band was in fine form and sounded as tight as I’ve ever heard them. The crowd were hooked on every lyric and nuance that emanated from the stage. Admittedly, anytime a beloved band releases a new album, I wonder if the new material can ever really match or surpass the love I have for their previous work. Stars newest album, “The North” is well on its way. Playing a career-spanning set showcasing their newest record, there was never a moment where Stars let their party slow down or their frenetic stage presence waver. The crowd followed their every move. Whether playing a rare track such as “Krush” from “The Comeback EP” (a track which astonishingly has never been incorporated into a set list before this tour) or ripping into the fiery, atmospheric stomp of newer material such as “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Lose It,” it was as difficult for this reviewer to find a highlight as it was for anyone seeing the band for the first time. Whether playing slower songs or quicker, louder ones, it never felt as if there were peaks and valleys in the set as much as a wave of great songs old and new that meshed seamlessly. “Take Me to the Riot” from their album “In Our Bedroom after the War” album burst from the amps with a triumphant roar while fans old and new jumped along. Another standout moment was their performance of new song “Do You Want To Die Together?” The song features alternating lead vocals for its verse while exploding with a soaring chorus that held the crowd with its throbbing, pounding beat. I couldn’t resist picking up Stars LP “The North” at the merch table after the show. Giving the brilliant blue vinyl a spin the next day took me back to the power of their performance because it demonstrates that Stars are definitely a band able to capture lightning in a bottle whether it be on record or in front of a rabid crowd.
Perhaps it helps a band to retain their creative focus and artistic integrity when their popularity is a slow steady climb based on a solid foundation rather than when it strikes overnight. A band like Stars is certainly testament to that. Their success can be measured by their constant focus to improve upon what they are as a band and I think their true fans can see it. It’s often argued that when a band becomes ”successful” they have reached a point in which they are in danger of selling out, in danger of finding a niche that will mould them into a unit that’s becoming too commercial, polished or even safe. Stars have never really broken out completely, but never faded into an underground scene that has made them more obscure. In this way they are fortunate because their success has materialized as a slow burn in which the band evidently as thankful to the hangers-on as it is determined to maintain and cultivate a discography that’s as colourful and varied. Still, with all those assets in check, it is still astounding to see a class act of a band with all their musicality and identity intact is not more well known or popular. They know how to work a crowd with dynamic showmanship and infectious energy. They have two distinct lead singers whose call and answer vocals are as unique as the contrast they stir up on many of their key tracks. They have always released challenging and yet accessible sounding albums that walk that fine line dividing the thoughtful indie art/alt rock with fizzy dance pop and somehow make it gel in a way that is unique to them. They never waver in their ability to deliver a clever hook with inventive arrangements. Geographically, Stars are cut from the same cloth as fellow Indie darlings Arcade Fire, both bands having emerged from the Montreal music scene, and yet one has become much more recognized than the other. It’s a curious thing when a bands inherent musical charm both onstage and on record resonate slower with a broad audience, but whatever the case may be for what determines a band’s popularity, it is clear that it is not the most important factor in what makes the band work or creatively fertile. Admittedly, I attend a lot of shows. More and more I find myself frustrated with the number of fans glued to their smart phones, cameras and video recording, only pausing to chime in on the chorus or lyrics to some of the bands better known tunes. It is a magical rarity that Stars fans seem to put that aside. Attending a Stars show isn’t all about broadcasting to social media that you were in attendance; it’s actually being there to listen to the talented musicians right in front of them, and tweeting about it later. You can hear this in the silence of the Commodore where a hushed crowd listed to Torquil sing mic-less from the stage. Maybe for Stars this kind of love, devotion and attention is common-place (as it should be) but more often than not the hushed, dedicated crowd gets drowned out in the over-night fame game.
Hurry back Stars, I miss you already.
In the meantime, thank-you for leaving me with yet another exhilarating experience and some incredible vinyl to spin around. See you next time!
Photos of Stars with Said The Whale © Pat Valade