The past few weeks have been pretty exciting for Montreal-based pop sextet Stars. In the days leading up to the US release of their third album, Set Yourself On Fire, they have had nice features in Spin, Paste, Filter, and a number of other music magazines, all of which sung their praises and put the band at the forefront of a burgeoning new music scene. Now, with the album in stores domestically, the band has set out across the country to prove that the praise they've been receiving is well deserved. I was lucky enough to catch up with the band at two of their tour stops last week - a Tuesday night gig at The Mercury Lounge in NYC and a Saturday night love fest at Chicago's Empty Bottle. Both shows were sold out well in advance.
Last Tuesday's New York City gig was a homecoming of sorts for Stars, as the band was actually formed there many years ago when frontman Torquil Campbell called the city home. Though there was definitely a large industry presence at the show, there was still some room for the fans to squeeze into the front of the very intimate venue. Anticipation was high, because as the band took the stage and was getting ready for their first song, the crowd fell completely silent. I'm talking pin drop silent.
Showing as much emotion as they know how, the New York City crowd dined on a musical main course of songs from all three of Stars' albums, though the majority of songs came from the band's most recent release and last year's Heart. The addition of two band members has really filled out the band's sound in a live setting. Now, Stars combine their pop songwriting genius with the gorgeous textured layers enjoyed by label-mates Broken Social Scene, and we're all the better off for it. As I've come to expect from most bands on the Arts & Crafts record label, Stars' set was an emotional roller-coaster that ranged from all out jubilation to heartbreaking defeat, and just about everything in between.
Whether it was the sub-zero temperatures and the wicked snowstorm, or just the fact that industry people are too cool to stay for entire shows, the overstuffed Mercury Lounge seemed to thin out a bit towards the end of the band's set, a move I was certainly not complaining about since the extra space meant I could actually move my beer to my mouth without spilling it on someone (or myself).
Catching a big buzz show in NYC is always an exciting event, but seeing that same show a few days later on your own turf, is even more exciting. The Empty Bottle could definitely be called Chicago's Mercury Lounge - exposed brick walls, great bands, lots of history, etc. But like most real estate related comparisons between Chicago and NYC, The Empty Bottle is a bit larger and drinks are a bit cheaper. They setlist was basically the same in Chicago, though the industry presence was far less obvious, as kids dancing and shaking around to "He Lied About Death" or "Ageless Beauty" were a common sight. Likewise, there was no thinning out of the crowd. Between the start of the show and the time Stars came out for their encore, I'd be surprised if even 10 people headed for the door.
Stars are continuing their tour through the beginning of April, before heading back to Canada for a few dates up North. They WILL be down at SXSW this year too, so if you have yet to see them, I highly recommend checking them out. By the time this year is over, I'm convinced that Set Yourself On Fire will be recognized as one of the best albums of '05. I know it will be on my list.
Thanks to Torquil, Amy and the rest of the band for writing such great songs and of course to Jeffrey Remedios for the tickets.
photos by: Myranda Zarlengo-Vargas/myraphoto