A week and a half came since Canadian indie rock outfit Stars came to Detroit’s Majestic concert hall, but the memory still seems fresh in my mind. For those uninitiated in the ways of Stars, imagine a better sounding Arcade Fire (really!) and you’ll be on the right track. Stars has superb male and female vocalists, great lyrics, great keyboards, and is incredibly catchy, plain and simple. While it might be best described as “poppy” Stars could bear many genre labels — Chamber Pop, Shoegaze, 80s Revivalism, and, of course, Indie Rock.
Stars is intimately connected to the band Broken Social Scene as male vocalist Torquil Campbell sings and records with that band, as does female lead vocalist of Stars and accomplished solo artist, Amy Milan. It rocks a lot like the aforementioned Arcade Fire, with shades of Everything but the Girl, at times. Really, though, Stars has become a unique force and is one of the defining acts in the indie genre before.
But I had never seen them. Until now.
The show opened up with Wild Nothing. The music brain child of Jack Tatum, Wild Nothing started as independent project and then morphed into a full band, as such things often do. At the show the group played a number of tracks of their album Gemini, which is receiving a good deal of critical acclaim. Often compared with My Bloody Valentine, I felt that the band also had strong overtones of England’s 80s rock movement.
Like many indie bands, it featured a lot of keyboards. But was really surprising was the wonderful guitar, which brought to mind the work of The Cure’s Porl Thompson. Wild Nothing’s weakest point was probably the vocals and lyrics. While a bit memorable at times, and not showing any glaring discrepancies, it just seemed like they needed to mature a bit and be refined.
The band is very much in its infancy and with the influence of bands like Stars they should be headed for a very bright future. As their lyricism and vocals catch up a bit to their catchy instrumentals, they’ll definitely be an act to watch.
But the show only really got started when Stars hit the stage. After a somewhat long setup the band walked out and immediately broken into what I believe is a new song, “Sunlight”. They followed that with a fan favorite “Elevator Love Letter”. This was followed by two popular songs off the new album The Five Ghosts, “The Passenger” and “Fixed”. “Fixed” in particular is such a memorable song and has been receiving a lot of independent radio play.
The opening set was corresponded with a gorgeous and elaborate light show. The band was splash with color as beams beat across the walls. It proved a captivating complement to Stars melody, drawing the growing audience deeper in. The show initially wasn’t very packed, but as Stars started, the crowd seemed to grow, swelling into an almost full house.
The band interacted a lot with the audience between songs. They recalled coming to Detroit and playing at the much smaller Magic Stick, and thanked those in the crowd who had attended, the apparently sparsely populated show.
As the band moved on through the set, they hit on pretty much all their classics. Some good ones included “Ageless Beauty”, “The Comeback”, “Set Yourself on Fire”, the radio-friendly “Take Me to the Riot”, and “The Woods”. The set began to rap up with the classic, beautiful track “Your Ex-Lover is Dead”. But it’s highest note came on the final song “One More Night”. Milan and Campbell’s traded lyrics were crisp, pained, and poignant, as they sang of struggling lovers wrapped in the throws of passions and remorse.
When Campbell voiced the memorable line, “When she’s breaking his heart she still fucks like a tease,” the crowd let out a collective gasp — not out of shock but out of the pure emotion of the song. The band had the audience entirely in its thrall, and it rip through this melancholy track amazingly.
After a brief exit the band returned to play some more classics like “Celebration Guns”. After a few more songs they called it a night — for real this time. They were incredibly polite sincerely thanking the audience and telling them how much they meant to them. It really came off as sincere and not one of those things bands feel forced to do. Maybe its because they’re Canadian (and hence naturally more polite and civil), but you get the feeling Stars really loves their fans.
When the set finished it struck me just how long it was. The band had been playing for over two hours. That’s a LONG set! And the quality never deteriorated. The light show was beautiful, the vocals were perfect and passionated, and the instrumentals were perfectly in key. I wasn’t sure how much of the synth/keyboard heavy sounds would translate to a live show, but they played pretty much everything you hear on the albums. Campell was even sporting a melodica (which I had to look up post-show just to figure out what it was!).
Seeing Stars is the kind of wonderful experience you hope for every time you see a live show. This is a rock band that seems truly committed to their craft (pun partially intended as they are on the label Arts&Crafts, hardy har har!). The show cemented in my mind their status as one of the most powerful and creative forces in independent rock today. If you haven’t heard Stars, you should listen to them. And if you haven’t seen them, you SHOULD, it is well worth the $17 admission fee (or whatever it was after Ticketmaster’s cut).