Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Stars came out to shine

Torquil Campbell (left) and Amy Millan
Pale roses filled the stage, creating a funeral-like atmosphere, as Montreal-native indie-pop group Stars previewed their upcoming album The Five Ghosts at Toronto’s Mod Club on May 5.

Since the new album will not be released until June 22, the excited audience could have only recognized a few new songs. The crowd grew quiet once the show started, soaking in the fresh material.

The sing-along really started when the band played "Fixed," the first single off their new album.

The most memorable song from the new album was the hauntingly beautiful "The Last Song Ever Written," with "We Don’t Want Your Body" as a close second.

Despite the band’s home base in Montreal, they introduced themselves as “growing up around the corner,” giving the impression of a big band coming home.

The show was the second stop on the band’s North American tour that began in Ottawa on May 4 and is scheduled to end Guelph on July 25.

The band thanked the audience for coming and said they felt lucky to be able to play for a sold-out crowd that did not know most of the songs.

The new songs were excellent, consistent enough with their previous material. The electronic indie pop sound hasn’t changed too much and the songs still told stories of love, heartbreak and death. However, there was enough growth in their sound as to not seem repetitive.

The heavily synth-based songs are more comparable to their 2004 album Set Yourself on Fire than their 2007 followup In Our Bedroom After the War.

Chris Seligman displayed his consistent expertise on the keyboards with Evan Cranley setting the beat on bass. This duo is credited with writing the bulk of the band’s music.

The sweet, sultry voice of Amy Millan harmonized perfectly with Torquil Campbell, creating melancholic but beautiful vocals.

The biggest problem with the show was the venue; the air-conditioning broke down, causing a sweltering heat. Organizers passed out water bottles, a generosity not always seen at ridiculously hot concerts.

The band however, laughed it off asking audience members to put away their cameras for a moment so they could spray the crowd with water.

Campbell insisted fans drink lots of water to avoid passing out.

You wouldn’t want to faint at a Stars concert, he said. “That would be like fainting while having tea with your grandmother.”

He jokingly urged audience members to alert the band if they felt too hot by screaming out “I’m not OK!”

One distinctive feature of the show was the encore. Before the tour began, the band asked fans to vote for the songs they wanted to hear. They picked the top five songs to play at each show. At the Toronto gig, the top five were "Your Ex-Lover is Dead," "Take Me to the Riot," "Ageless Beauty," "One More Night" and "Heart."

This portion was more like a typical Stars show, the crowd able to sing along to their favourites.

The often melancholic sounds matched the funeral motif, fitting with the new ghostly lyrics. Band members even threw flowers petals in the air or handed roses to audience members.

The band urged fans to buy the new album on vinyl to get the full experience, recommending they listen to it from start to finish while relaxing on a balcony. No matter how technology has progressed, they insisted the music just always sounds better on vinyl.

In all, the band put on an excellent show, giving fans an early taste of what’s to come - a tease that’s sure to keep them craving more.

Originally published with The Charlatan, Carleton University's independent student newspaper.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Coming up...

I'll be checking out a few upcoming concerts so stay tuned for those reviews.

Up next:
The Weakerthans, Horseshoe Tavern, May 25
Johnny Hollow & Attrition, Neutral, June 6
She and Him, Sound Academy, June 9

I adore the Weakerthans. There's something about John K. Samson's voice that just makes my heart melt. It just sounds so honest and pure. The first time I saw them last year, I didn't know a lot of the older material. I often find that this makes the concert less enjoyable with all of the songs sounding the same. But not the Weakerthans. I'll never forget John pacing the stage like a wandering troubadour, singing the sad Virtute the Cat Explains his Departure--nor the prequel, A Plea from a Cat Named Virtute. It's one of those songs that raises my spirits every time I hear it.

I've been a huge fan of Johnny Hollow for a while now. The band members are such nice people and the music is completely unique. I can't find any other band that matches Johnny Hollow in their sweet haunting melodies and their excellent stage presence. I remember once seeing them and something went wrong with the keyboard sounds. However, since Vincent Marcone (the excellent artist and keyboardist) plays his electronic parts live (self-described as a "human drum machine) they were able to laugh about it and keep going. Much better than the pre-recorded backtracks that I find all too often at concerts these days.

I've never seen Attrition. I remember hearing of them a while ago when the violindustrial Emilie Autumn said they used her original material without her permission on their album. Don't know the truth behind this story, but alas, if their music is anything like Emilie Autumn's or Johnny Hollow's, I'm sure it'll be an interesting night. Looking forward to it.

She and Him is a band I've only discovered in the past year. They released their second album, Volume 2, in March. But it's Volume 1 that's the real gem. I've fallen in love with Zooey Deschanel's sweet old-style vocals and M. Ward's soft, relaxing accompaniment. From the opening track, Sentimental Heart, I was hooked.