Montreal-based band Stars has been perfecting their own intelligent brand of indie pop for fifteen years now. 2014’s, No One Is Lost, their seventh album, took them in a more electronic direction, with disco beats permeating tracks like “From the Night” and “Trap Door,” and the roller-disco theme of the cover art reinforcing the shift in sound. Yet the album is still recognizably Stars, and sounds more like an evolution than a reinvention. The band came to the 9:30 Club late last year their tour for the album, and returned to the area to play at Rams Head Live in Baltimore last Friday night.
An essential part of the Stars sound is the interplay of vocals between Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan. Sometimes they compliment each other, singing in harmony, with one singer serving to strengthen and emphasize the other. At other points, they create a tension, seeming locked in a dramatic struggle (see the call-and-response lyrics of “You Keep Coming Up,” one of the strongest of the new tracks). With bassist Even Cranley and drummer Pat McGee holding down the rhythm and keyboardist Chris Seligman providing the textures, the band proved that even fifteen years in, they’re at the top of their game. Along with the new tracks, the band also played classics from their back catalog, including “We Don’t Want Your Body,” “Hold On When You Get Love,” and “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead.”
Although the setlist was almost an abridged version of the earlier DC show (the 15 tracks played by the band in Baltimore were all in the 22 track set list they played in DC, in the same order), the ambiance couldn’t have been more different. In DC, the stage was a brilliant, sometimes blinding wash of colored lights, with the blues, purples, and reds reflecting brightly through heavy fog. In Baltimore, the band played at times in near darkness, with occasional flashes of light illuminating the stage.
Oddly, both seemed fitting – much like many of the band’s songs deal with the paradoxes of human existence, the two extremes in atmosphere both seem to represent the band’s ideas. There is no middle ground. As Campbell repeated “Put your hands up if you know you’re gonna lose,” in “No One Is Lost,” the final song of the main set, the entire audience threw their hands in the air and danced. We’re all going to die, so we might as well have fun on the way there.
The female/male dual vocal team of Zahira Gutierrez and Cody Swann, aka Wild
Moccasins from Houston, Texas, opened the show and bore more than a passing resemblance to Stars. Touring for the release of their second album, 88 92, the 80s influence, was made abundantly clear by a cover of Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face.”
All photos by Matt Condon. Click to embiggen.