[The following is my third column that was published for the guide, the lifestyle magazine of The Hoya. The print version of AMPlify runs every other Friday. You can find the originals by searching my name at thehoya.com. Let me just say that this was not written in my proudest moment. I was majorly stressin’ for a number of reasons when I wrote this.]
Canadian baroque-pop band Stars returned to the 9:30 Club on Sunday night after two years. While the band played a few favorites to please their older fans, more than half of their set was tracks from their latest album,The North, whose 44 minutes consist of mostly forgettable tracks interspersed with some catchy, cinematic gems.
Luckily, Stars chose opening acts worth mentioning. The concert opened with Chicago-based California Wives, whose sound blends that of Stars and Silversun Pickups. A standard four-piece rock setup yielded a pleasantly upbeat, chill sound, smoothed out by raspy, shy vocals. “Tokyo” and “Marianne” were memorable, but otherwise, most of their songs sounded similar. The relaxed mood they instilled in the audience, though, was no preparation for the act that followed.
Indeed, Toronto artist Diamond Rings was nothing less than a theatrical act. The performance started with three young men in black clothing who wouldn’t have looked out of place playing the role of the Jets in West Side Story. As the audience took that in, Diamond Rings made an entrance in all white.
Like a taller, gender-bending version of Swedish pop star Robyn, his dancing was just as wacky and reminiscent of convulsions as are some of the moves in her music videos. He played flamboyant, appealing songs with forward, metaphorical lyrics, thumping beats and catchy electronic riffs. He and his men in black had no problem getting the audience pumped for the main act but couldn’t bridge the genre gap between their band and Stars.
As is expected at any sold-out concert, the audience roared when Stars walked on stage against a simple backdrop of apartment buildings, reminiscent of their latest album art. They opened with “Theory of Relativity,” their first single from The North. By following it with “Fixed,” a track from 2010 album The Five Ghosts, Stars put forth the idea that they would play tracks both new and old, much to my pleasant surprise. However, from that point onwards, it was a constant back-and-forth between their latest songs and ones that I listened to on the 2005 “The O.C.” soundtrack. Maybe I’m just nostalgic for the Stars songs I played in middle and high school, but the song order the band chose really put me off. They neither presented their new album as a whole in order to give the audience a taste of how it sounds live, nor did they play many of the songs from their earlier albums that really defined who Stars was as a band in its younger, more active years. The band took the audience for a ride on a musical roller coaster, and I can’t say I had much fun. Though certainly dependent upon one’s liking for The North, the show’s structure was generally confusing and bizarre.
One thing to be said for Stars, though, is that they always deliver a passion that clearly demonstrates their love and appreciation of their fans. Having seen them in concert a few years ago, I knew to expect the emotional, poetic words of gratitude from singers Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan. Torq made a point to thank the audience for spending money on concert tickets during these tough times, and Amy reminded everyone to vote. Though the band members are making their way into their forties and slowly losing the energetic element of their performance, it’s clear that they appreciate their younger fans and will always try to empathize with them. Few bands present themselves as down to earth these days, but Stars does. Stars champions a maturity that is much appreciated when we consider artists who sometimes get caught up in the musician lifestyle rather than make actual connections with their audiences.
As a whole, Stars put on a great show. Neither the opening acts nor the set Stars chose made much musical sense, but the element of passion they put into their music was laudable.