Wednesday night at Metro was filled with performance art. The Wrigleyville venue welcomed Stars, on tour in support of their latest single, “Are You With Me?,” released a few weeks ago. Stars have been a touring machine recently, on the road since last fall promoting their 8th album, There Is No Love In Fluorescent Light. The Montreal-based band will celebrate their 20th birthday next year, and it isn’t without effort. The band’s albums are consistently well written and intriguing, spanning from soft spoken chamber pop to danceable nightclub-esque grooves, but what really makes them special is their live show. From singer/guitarist Amy Millan’s sweet, rich vocals to singer Torquil Campbell’s insane theatrics, Stars is a band worth seeing again and again.
My Brightest Diamond started the night with an intriguing yet slightly peculiar set. Throughout the performance, the singer had a personal connection with the audience, acting almost as if she were performing for her best friends at a house show rather than a historic venue with a capacity of 1100. However, she was one of the most performative musicians I’ve seen in a long time, combining a weird drama teacher-like quality with amazing musical talent. She brought out a horn quartet to play with her at one point. She had the audience raise imaginary champagne glasses, she shrieked, she howled, she jumped and danced like a madman. With her crazy red hair and eccentric theatrics, it was as if Myrtle Snow decided to front a rock band. Her performance was theatrical and unexpected, a perfect opener for Stars.
When Stars took the stage, I didn’t expect to see the crowd as excited as they were. Being a relatively under-the-radar yet veteran indie pop band, I assumed the audience was going to be full casual fans who were there because they knew Stars was a great band, but the type that didn’t express their excitement. You know, the usual 30-something thrift store sweater dudes with their arms folded, slightly nodding to the beat while occasionally mouthing the words. Of course, those guys were there too, but the number of screaming fan girls was surprising. When Campbell gyrated his hips on stage, they would shriek in approval. They kept pushing and shoving to get closer, raising their hands in the air when the band did, dancing and singing. “This song was released 10 YEARS AGO!” one exclaimed during “Take Me To The Riot,” a track off of 2007’s In Our Bedroom After The War. It was slightly obnoxious, but it was refreshing to see people truly electrified by the music.
Co-frontpeople Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan’s unique chemistry drove the performance throughout the night. They are true performers as well as musicians, feeding off each other to give the audience not just a concert, but a theatrical experience. They frequently embrace as they harmonize together, acting as if they are lovers telling their story instead of professional musicians with husbands, wives and children (fun fact: Millan’s husband is actually Stars bassist Evan Cranley!). Campbell frequently emotes to the audience, getting on his knees and pleading to both the audience and Millan. After delivering a lyric he would bend down and put his hands on his knees and look at the crowd, as if he was weighed down and exhausted by all the emotion. He brought out unique instruments throughout the performance, including a melodica and what looked like a children’s tape recorder. Campbell even channeled artist Klaus Nomi in “Trap Door,” ending the song with a crazy operatic falsetto much more dramatic than the album version.
That’s another thing that makes a Stars concert unique: the songs are just better live. Period. I’d be lying if I said that although a consistently good band with songs I truly love, a lot of their albums as a whole kind of fall flat for me. One must see them live to understand what makes them a truly unique indie pop band. The songs live are much more dramatic and emotional, making them much more relatable to the listener. But their staying power isn’t rooted in just their music, it is rooted in their theatrics as well. Stars provide a truly unique concert experience no other artist could. A post on their Facebook page said they would be “disappearing into the light for a long while after this tour.” For the love of performance art in indie pop, let’s hope this isn’t the case.
All photos by Carissa Coughlin.