February 9, 2009

Oh, My Stars!

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Storming the florally adorned set of the State Theatre Friday evening, Toronto based indie pop group Stars immediately brought four fifths of the crowd to their feet. Building a swirling hurricane with golden organ and tin-laced percussion; the velvety vocal of Amy Millan weaved the band’s inaugural track. In “The Night Starts Here,” we are advised to “forget your name, forget your fear,” as the tumbling, externalized vocal melody of male bandleader Torquil Campbell refocused our energies on “the ecstasy, the being free, the big black cloud over you and me.” Reminiscent of the Baroque style chamber pop that propelled The Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible onto countless “Best of 2007” manifestos, the Stars’ esoteric instrumentation melted with deep harmonies, creating an explosive, reverberating fortress of sound.
An hour earlier, the Brooklyn native opener Kevin Devine led off the evening with promisingly folksy, introspective, probing lyrics set to a gently pacing acoustic guitar. Singing of the “bourgeois blues,” the rising artist sought to justify his million-and-a-half-hits Myspace success. The impatient crowd, however, quickly tired of Devine’s pitchy, crackling, clumsy act, largely ignoring the performer after his first song. Wholly uninterested, the buzzing provided a distracting backtrack to Devine’s garrulous, whiney rants.
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Synthesizing the anti-folk style of the Moldy Peaches’ Adam Green with the melodrama we’d expect from Dashboard Confessional’s early work, the opener had few admirers, namely what appeared to be his two sisters hushing the crowd from the front row. Sadly, the fan section’s ill advised attempted to initiate an audience wide clap session fell flat, eliciting a chortling “Oh, this is just terrible!” from the feral haired hipster to my right. Devine moaned to a deaf choir, as the crowd looked on painfully, offering a polite yelp following the performer’s inexplicable five-minute high-pitched tirade. With a repetitive, minimalist guitar line as flimsy backbone, the vocal is called upon to carry the track. Unfortunately for all those in attendance, Devine’s voice was in no way capable of such feat. Regardless, Ithaca’s famous hospitality was on display Friday night, as the crowd graciously sent off the opening act with a respectable round of applause.
[img_assist|nid=34853|title=Montreal-based band Stars brought audience members to their feet.|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Immediately picking the show right back up, Stars thrust their fans headlong into “Take Me To The Riot,” a catchy ditty infused with ebullient angst and suspense. Amidst foot tapping melody and crisp rhythm guitar, Campbell pounded the mic with an infectious chorus, declaring a simultaneously soul pumping and anthemic, “Saturday nights in neon lights, Sunday in the cell / Pills enough to make me feel ill, cash enough to make me well / Take me, take me to the RIIIOOTTTTT!!!!” Holding his note for an eternity, the male vocalist heaved flower pedals to the rafters, as fans erupted in wild hysteria.
Without warning, Torquil grabbed hold of a trumpet and spun dizzily around the stage, metallic brass glistening. Organ-sounds gracefully slid around the subtle, chilling female vocal in “What The Snowman Learned About Love,” an unabashedly hopeful tale of redemption amidst skepticism. Synthesizer floating around groovy base line, the band again touted Friday night’s “great audience members,” encouraging us to “get out to more shows.” Though security attempted to keep the fire exits and aisles clear, the hipster-saturated crowd pluckily refused to budge for “the man.”
Dedicating the next track to post-Super Bowl nacho and guacamole induced sex, the gentle, reassuring beat pushed onward through the mist of uncertainty. Informing the crowd, “famous people do sets, play to tapes,” they assured their disciples that “this is indie rock, so its not all pre-recorded.” They warned, however, “we’re doing [the] songs we want, not ones you yell.”
Horn-rimmed glasses out in flocks, skinny jeans were the default as the veteran Canadian indie pop-rockers serenaded one of the youngest State Theatre crowds in quite some time, surely much to the credit of Cornell Concert Commission’s collaborative effort. The chattering Millian proudly revealed that she was “so, so pleased to be here” and appreciated Ithaca’s support “so, so much” as the Stars wrap up their tour in the “beautiful venue” that is the State Theatre.
Bringing to mind the closely linked group “Broken Social Scene,” The Stars put their Baroque-pop influences on full display with poetry set to the cataloguing of emotions, soaked to the sounds of church organ. The necessity of escape from the deafening rhythm of everyday life protrudes from “A Thread Cut With A Carving Knife,” as chiming piano sent Stars flying recklessly across stage.
When the time came, the crowd unsurprisingly begged and pleaded for an encore. Echoes of “please come back” and “don’t leave us” filled the theatre as the Stars reclaimed the stage. Wrapping up with “Set Yourself On Fire,” futuristic backdrop permeated a synthesizer drenched, cathartic release, as Torquil Campbell howled in pain and regret “In every single place that has ever, ever been / Hiroshima, Los Angeles and each town in between / There is only one thing.” One self-identified “closet hipster indie girl” even exclaimed “Oh damn! How about it was the best song ever! Right on!” The vocal styling of Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan meshed famously Friday evening, easily surpassing the sum of its parts as tight, crisp, shoe-gazing art pop echoed past the State Theatre’s very back rows.