Ups And Downs With Stars

I heard a decent chunk of Stars sound check early yesterday and experienced something I wasn’t expecting: I was a little pumped to see them headline the Saturday night main stage of the Regina Folk Festival later.

I’m working from a distinct Stars chronology, having loved their first two albums, Heart and Set Yourself on Fire, having been aggressively underwhelmed by their third, In the Bedroom After the War, and bored by what little I heard after that. To be honest, my plan for last night had been to come, enjoy the good stuff (mostly early and Amy Millan-centric material), ignore the stuff I didn’t like (again, anything post-In the Bedroom After the War) and straight-up hate-watch anytime Torquil Campbell was getting a little Torquil-y.

The way some people purportedly hate-watch Smash, the NBC musical show, was how I was going to hate-watch those parts. The sound check surprised me, because they were playing newer songs that sounded really good. It left me with the possibility that I might just be the guy who legitimately likes Smash and all of Stars. The concert itself fell more or less back in line with my previous plan.

Jayden Pfeifer, the M.C. for the night, gave Stars his typical enthusiastic intro. Honestly, I hope he didn’t ruin his vocal chords at all yelling “STAAAAAAAARS”; that would be a real shame. And right off the bat, they sounded good. Not necessarily the sound itself — for any big act, the sound board seems to take a song or two to get things ironed out — but it was a fun performance from a band that was once heralded as part of a “Soft Revolution”.

Some of the new material off their upcoming album, The North, sounded really good. If memory serves, they played “Backlines”, which is a jam. The trap they kept falling into was the one where they embrace some techno aspect of their sound. They have some very insipid electronic material that has no reason being recorded or played live, for that matter.

You could easily put that aside when they were playing tracks like “Reunion” or “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead”. What’s tougher to ignore is Torquil. At this show, he wasn’t throwing fake roses into the crowd, like he did at the last Stars show in Regina. He didn’t ask them to turn down the lights so he could tell a ghost story like he did once with his side project Memphis. (Although he did ask the crowd if Regina had a lot of ghosts, which felt like it might have been segue for a moment.) He’s just an off-putting person at times, a man’s who’s mild pretensions and potential egotism seem to ooze out.

That might be fair — I don’t know that man personally — but consider something he said to intro a song last night: “The thing about me is .. the thing about Stars is we just won’t fucking go away. We just keep coming back.” He’s a talented man, with his Stars work and also his Memphis material. I gave the last Memphis album, Here Comes a City, a positive review in one of the slew of unpublished prairie dog album reviews I have sitting in Stephen Whitworth’s inbox. Personally, he rubs me the worst way possible.

The worst part is, they have the very funny, charming and affable Millan on the stage. If you’ve ever seen her solo work live, you’ll know what I mean. She’s the freaking best! She could be talking about eating babies on stage and I would still be in love. But she didn’t say a peep last night. The band needs to strike a balance — Torquil talks less, Millan talks more. Then, we’re all happy. Oh yeah, and less of the electronic bullshit.

Author: James Brotheridge

Contributing Editor with Prairie Dog.

3 thoughts on “Ups And Downs With Stars”

  1. J-Bro, I totes agree with your sentiments as they relate to the band’s more keyboard-heavy material. I find it cold and distant. There’s only two or three songs on “The Five Ghosts” that are salvageable (yes, mostly the Millan tracks).

    But remember, “Heart” is not their first album! They had three EPs that came out before that and the full-length “Nightsongs.” They don’t really count though; it was before Millan was a full-time member of the band and the line-up was more transitory. Still, “Nightsongs” has a couple of essential, albeit larval-stage, Stars songs like “Tonight” (which you might hate because it’s pretty Torquil-y) and “Going, Going, Gone” (which features Emily Haines of Metric fame on lady vocals).

  2. They erred in making the bartender and Sophia Loren, I mean Angelica Huston’s love interest some type of goofy populist anti-art snob, despite the fact he clearly has some deeply shady, unwholesome past. In hurt me that they threw this rugged, post-hustler with a heart of gold to the wickedly conformist and bland “anti-elitist” Tea Party-types for ‘balance’.

  3. Not to be nitpicky, but Set Yourself On Fire was 2004.Anyway, found your blog as I was drpniopg some of my own songs of the decade and I love nearly all your picks. Stars’ orchestration is just unstoppable, and this song is definitely no exception.

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