Stars and Bell X1
September 26, 2008
Better Than: sitting at home on a Friday night watching the presidential debates
By GAVIN SNIDER
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It was couples' night Friday at the Granada, kids standing arm in arm on the dingy floor, holding hands and talking in quiet anticipation. Parents sat at tables toward the back of the bar, happy for a show that would end before their bedtime. When the lights went down and Stars took the stage, there was none of the usual jockeying for position. Maybe it was the floral arrangements that dotted the amps and the drum kit, maybe it was that early start time, but clearly there was something soothing in the air.
Stars are emo in the best sense of the word, playing well-crafted pop songs that explore two themes: death and fucking. Their most recent full-length In Our Bedroom After the War, while not quite successful as a concept album, is marked by big, beautiful songs that are never short on drama. About half the night’s set came from that album, which revolves around a vague plot line of a war, a revolution, and the morning after it all. With all this talk of revolution and barricades, the songs played like a poor man’s Les Miserables. Amy Millan sang Fantine to Torquil Campbell’s Jean Valjean, while the other four band members recreated the orchestra with lush keyboards, well placed guitar lines, and real and electronic drums.
More after the jump.
It was the interplay between the two singers that was the real highlight of Stars. Aided by some not-quite boy band headsets, they hit all the right notes. Amy Millan looked like an awkward girl trying out for Nashville star, trying to dance and play guitar while balancing precariously on high heels. The awkwardness was endearing, and Millan’s voice was at once soft and powerful. At one point she did her best Mario Chalmers impression, catching a pass and taking a few dribbles before launching an imaginary shot across the stage. She even stopped to hold her form. Torquil bore an eerie resemblance to Chris Kataan, with the mannerisms of a reclusive architecture professor. When he projected his voice, you’d have though Morrissey was making a guest appearance.
Every few songs the band grabbed roses from the stage and launched them into the crowd. I can imagine bassist Evan Cranley on the tour bus, icing his arm like a pitcher who went the distance. Stars struck a good balance between soft and rockin’, sweet and creepy. It was easy to forgive all the lines that made me cringe (What’s your middle name?/How do you play the game?) because, damnit, they were all so sincere. The band tore through the best songs from Set Yourself On Fire, a few from their new EP Sad Robots. It’s a rare and wonderful occasion when a song gives you goosebumps. And when Stars played "Elevator Love Letter towards" the end of their set, that’s exactly what happened.
Personal Bias: I would rather be offended than be bored. A band from Dublin called Bell X1 opened up for Stars. I longed for them to screw something up horribly, break character, do anything that would add a little excitement to their polished sound.
Random Detail: Stars didn’t try too hard to push their political beliefs on the audience. Torquil, however, did give us an update on the presidential debate. Obama, he said, was telling how America how he would help bolster the economy. McCain was saying things to scare people. Sarah Palin, he said, was at home eating hash brownies and watching porn. Then he mumbled something about her being a dirty bitch.
By the way:
I don’t remember lying
I don’t remember lies
I don’t remember a word
But I don’t care, I care, I really don’t care
Did you see the drummer’s hair?