all words: Katrina Casino
all photos: Faith Desired
Its rare that any band at any single show can make their audience feel like they’re at senior prom, an indie rock riot, and a political protest all in one night, but somehow Stars managed to pull it off. Maybe it’s a Canadian thing. Maybe it’s DC. Or maybe it’s that Stars is a major talent that’s majorly dedicated to giving major fans the very best every single time.
In fact, Stars in DC is the gig so nice they did it twice.
Hitting the 9:30 club two nights in a row this past week, Stars gave DC audiences a run (or two) for their money, using their latest album, The Five Ghosts, as an excuse to treat fans to, well, One More Night with the decade-old band. The idea of a Stars performance tends to raise a lot of eyebrows among skeptics unfamiliar with their live set. Although the band’s recorded repertoire is littered (the good kind of littering) with a ton of dreamy synths, intricate instrumentals, and low-key vocals, their live show consists of a carefully crafted set that serves as a kind of highlight reel for the band’s rock and roll capabilities.
Obligatorily touching upon The Five Ghosts to open the show, the band began with “He Dreams He’s Awake” before kicking into throwbacks, such as a rendition of 2003’s “Elevator Love Letter,” which largely abandoned the song’s tinkling synths in favor of a bumping bass, a ripping guitar, and Torquil Campbell’s rockin’-ass melodeon. From that moment on, it was clear: this show, this tour, and this band are not about winning fans over or promoting their latest album. They’re about keeping the classics alive in a show that was less about record sales and more about Stars, their fans, and the extremely personal connection created through a combination of monster talent and heartfelt sentiment. And as usual, Campbell said it best: “We’re the fucking Grateful Dead of indie rock.”
Not even mentioning the name of their new record until at least ten songs into their set, even the band’s choice of songs from Ghosts read as a dead giveaway that they know the power of their album always lies where the most heart is (in this case, “Dead Hearts”), giving the new tracks some room to breathe and using the old ones to hit the sore but sweet spots of nostalgia that trademark the band’s lyrics.
But then again, what can you expect from a band that enters the stage to The Crests’ “Sixteen Candles,” periodically shoots bubbles and roses into crowds, and insists that audience members pair off and slow dance? Stars, always the romantics. “We know it’s slow,” Campbell began to excuse the band before breaking into “Dead Hearts.” “But you can still dance to it. You can dance and cry at the same time.” Sigh.
Don’t get me wrong though. Stars are more than a group of lazy dreamers caught up in romance. They’re also passionate, political activists (actually, the more I think about this, the less I want Stars to be a band a listen to, and the more I want them to be a person who I can be in a long-term committed relationship with). Although often deferring to Campbell for interaction with the audience, vocalist/head bitch in charge Amy Millan seized the forefront of the band’s political ideals imploring each and every audience member to attend Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity on October 30th.
More than just a passing comment, the band’s anti-war sentiments served as almost a tone for parts of the night, most notably during their encore, which was introduced by a recording of President Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell address to the nation warning future generations of the dangers of the military-industrial complex and obsession with imperial power. Just to ensure that there was no confusion as to the intentions of this choice, Millan took it upon herself to begin the tail-end of the show with a solo performance of the very rarely-played “Celebration Guns,” leaving little to the imagination as a single violet light cast over the opening lyrics: “So tomorrow there will be another number/For the one who had a name/Desert wind and a perverse desire to win/History buried in shame.”
After Millan urged audience members once more to attend this month’s rally, the rest of the band joined her to close the show with a five-song encore that included (thank God) classics like “Reunion” and “Midnight Coward.” Sealing the show up where they opened it, Stars’ final song “Changes” from Ghosts was an appropriately slow but sweet goodbye at the end of a long night.
So, Stars, if you’re listening, we know you have a lot of important things to do. We know it’s not easy trying to save the world. We know it’s not even easy trying to save the world of indie rock. But please, come back soon – we’ll feel too lame slow-dancing without you.