Review By Dan Singer, Photos By Emily Cohen
As the federal government prepared to shut down on Monday night, Stars was only getting louder and increasingly fired up inside the 9:30 Club. That’s right — leave it to some bubbly Canadians to convince us that we were justified in dancing and celebrating as the National Zoo’s “Panda Cam “took its dramatic final breaths. Over the past few days, it’s been hard to avoid the chaos of This Town and our expert Facebook friends trying to make sense of it all, but for a couple of hours, Stars provided solace for some lucky concertgoers.
Stars has a knack for sugary, orchestrated arrangements layered beneath the lovely harmonies of Amy Millan and Torquil “Torq” Campbell. The band occupies an agreeable pocket between ‘80s synthpop, unabashed tweeness and indie soundtrack balladry, and it’s been one of the most consistent acts to mine that territory for the last decade or so.
Those unfamiliar with Stars’ live show might have a hard time believing the band rocks as much as it charms onstage. I was one of those skeptics, despite the very nice things our writers have said in the past. There was really no need for me to worry, though. The members of Stars love what they do, and they convey their passion by making Monday nights feel like Saturday nights and turning ruminations on disappointing sex into dance parties.
Every song was bigger, and louder, than on record. Maybe too loud, but only because the volume occasionally muddied the band’s gorgeous arrangements. On the plus side, the big sound was fairly appropriate for Stars, which is more theatrical than initially meets the eye.
Campbell and Millan were particularly enthusiastic, handling the band’s heavier songs with dramatic poise and letting loose on the more carefree material. Impressively, they never came across as being too cheesy, even when Campbell had the audacity to break out his melodica. Millan and Campbell’s chemistry was on full display when they traded lines during “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead,” and “Walls.” “Elevator Love Letter,” played during the encore, showcased some of their prettiest harmonies.
Stars seemed to be having as much fun as its audience while tearing through fan-favorites and synthy highlights from last year’s The North. Even though it’s a veteran of the Canadian indie scene at this point, the band could teach its reverb-drenched contemporaries a thing or two about showmanship. It knows how to engage a crowd, and its solid discography translates quite well to a live setting. I left the 9:30 Club with doubts about the state of the American Dream and the return of the Panda Cam, but from here on out, Stars has my vote of confidence.