I rarely visit the Hub these days, though back in my days working for UCen Catering, I would venture over to Wendy’s every once in awhile. Last Friday night, however, I had the good fortune of returning in order to check out a band I had always liked, Montreal’s Stars, and finding out in the process that my adoration of this band has grown exponentially.
A.S. Program Board’s first show of its 2008-09 lineup featured the Canadian group with an ever-fluctuating lineup, including its two lead singers, Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan. Stars’ numerous albums have declared that life should be a grand, dramatic battlefield of epic proportions, where love is both a blessing and a weapon. At Friday’s show, Stars articulated these ideals like a mantra, and literally threw roses out to the audience during most of the night.
Let’s be clear about one thing: Accusations of melodrama and over-the-top theatricality ascribed to the Stars crew are unfair. Sure, there were some spots of politicizing, and both Torquil and Amy hammed it up from time to time – “A Thread Cut With a Carving Knife” and “Ageless Beauty” come to mind – but these songs are so expansive and grand that performing them any other way would seem limp and false.
I was floored by the confidence, bravado and passion on display at Friday evening’s show, even though I’ve seen them live before. Playing songs mostly from 2004’s masterpiece, Set Yourself on Fire, this year’s In Our Bedroom After the War and the bonus EP Sad Robots, the band played around with the arrangements of its songs, perfecting every soaring chorus, vocal interplay and bridge breakdown.
A mournful song like “Your Ex-Lover is Dead” was stripped of its violin, becoming a pounding anthem that you can raise your fist to and the confused love tirade, “What I’m Trying to Say,” essentially became a punk rock song.
The band opened with “The Night Starts Here,” which was perfect, articulating Stars’ themes like a well-researched thesis paper. Also a highlight was Campbell’s best Morrissey impression on “Take Me to the Riot,” which I think made the song more fun to dance along to than one would imagine after simply listening to it on the record.
Enthusiasm is hard to come by on a college campus, and more than anything, I was thrilled to be with a crowd of kids who were really, really into the show they were seeing. It helped that the opening band, Think About Life, thoroughly rocked everyone into a giddy, funkified state. Also from Montreal, the band could probably be described as a modern-day Motown band. Seriously, those who came early made a wise choice, because we got down and in the groove. When Stars finally went on, we had become a receptive audience, with open arms and hearts to one of today’s most romantic bands.
Those issues of melodrama reared up again as Torquil chose to close the show by singing the solo piano revolution number “Barricade,” after three full-band encore songs (including a rousing version of “Set Yourself On Fire”). However, because of the ridiculously huge barricade literally separating the audience from Stars, it was completely appropriate. Just like life, when relationships come into play, when it’s too big too ignore, it’s not only appropriate, it’s absolutely vital.