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All words: Jeb Gavin

Form up the platonic ideal of Canadian indie pop music in the recesses of your mind. If you will, roll it through your mental process. Whatever you hear when you imagine it, that’s exactly what Stars sound like, especially live at the 9:30 Club. It operates like a sonic Rorschach test, each song reflecting the experience you want to have, amplifying the emotion you feel, whatever it might be. This was the music of parties, of raucous nights out, but also lullabies, or first dances at weddings. Like their name, Stars’ sound is frustratingly amorphous though never the less pleasant, and they brought an excitement and fervor (albeit restrained) to the club I was not expecting on a nippy Sunday evening.

Starting off the evening were the California Wives. Aptly named, the band is all wiry guitar work and shimmering percussion overlaid with the most delicately shout-sung pop melodies. The whole thing sounds as though the Strokes might, in some alternate universe, be from Southern California, swapping leather jackets for knit surf ponchos. I’ll be frank, I don’t think it’s a sound I’d ever seek out on my own, but given a lazy drive on sunny spring afternoon, I’d be hard pressed to turn if off if it spontaneously started pouring out of my speakers.

The second band up was Diamond Rings is actually one man, John O’Regan, with help. O’Regan, hailing from Toronto, typically throws down hard. He looks like a much taller Robyn with Lady Gaga’s fashion sense. He is a blonde, albino stick figure, and stood on stage wearing everything white- white sneakers, white skinny jeans, white tank top, white leather jacket covered in gold studs (this only matters because after the show he was signing autographs in effectively the exact same outfit in black, sans jacket.) Sadly, his performance was lacking, especially considering how much I’d built it up in my head beforehand. He makes dark, danceable electro-pop, all hinging on his magnificent voice, orchestrating loops and electronic drums around the emotion wrung from his every syllable. Except for some reason, half of everything he said was muddied by the the rest of the instrumentation, making him sound like a somehow even less interesting Billy Corgan singing over ’90s European dance tracks, dancing around like George Michael (awesome) and occasionally Aldous Snow as portrayed by Russell Brand (definitely not awesome.) A friend posited the theory that opening bands are intentionally mixed to sound worse than the headliner, which sounds evil if true, especially coming from Canadian bands. Then again, Rush is deep into Ayn Rand, perhaps objectivism through sabotage is as vital to the Canadian bands’ existence as effusive stage hellos. Eventually “A-Z” sounded decent, but I can’t help but think he could have put on a better set.

Speaking of which, Stars themselves are fantastic. They’re gracious and grateful to their audience for showing up, watched over by multiple expertly run disco balls (at least four that I could count,) and stacking harmonies every which way like cord wood. They’re like a less campy Scissor Sisters, a less wistful Belle and Sebastian- I’d even go as far as to call them a less John Cheeverish Arcade Fire. There was a run of four songs starting with “We Don’t Want Your Body” right on through “Do You Want to Die Together?” that was downright brilliant. By the time “Walls” came up, everyone in the room was singing along, finally taking over for Amy Millan. Canadian indie pop, man. It’s something.

Stars

The Theory of Relativity
Fixed
A Song Is a Weapon
Ageless Beauty
The North
We Don’t Want Your Body
Through the Mines
Your Ex-Lover Is Dead
Do You Want to Die Together?
Backlines
Soft Revolution
Lights Changing Colour
Dead Hearts
Elevator Love Letter
Progress
Midnight Coward
Hold on When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It
Take Me to the Riot
Walls

The 400

Diamond Rings

All the Time
Runaway Love
I’m Just Me
Hand Over My Heart
Something Else
A-Z
Day and Night

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