22 Jun 2010: Troubadour Los Angeles
Some ghost stories are meant to terrorize and turn us into quivering messes. They cause one to sleep with an eye open and twitch at every creak of the house.
Some ghost stories are respectful of the dead. They embrace those who came and passed before us, treating the spirits as angelic wanderers, granting their presence to benefit us. These spectres are sages and protectors, not spooks that go bump in the night to evict the living. They are reminders that we are never alone.
Stars tout that message wherever they go. Particularly on their newest release, The Five Ghosts (Vagrant). The Montreal sincerity-pop group ensures listeners that death is not the end, and everyone is loved by someone. The first evening of their two-night stand at the Troubadour was indeed a love fest between musician and fan. The six-member indie constellation treated the crowd to a live re-creation of Ghosts and two additional sets of their beloved back catalogue, as voted by people who visited their website.
The gig was a chill summer soiree—vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Torquil Campbell set the mood prior to his full band’s performance as DJ Dead Child Star (A later Stars tune, the ballad “Calendar Girl”, was dedicated by Campbell to all the actors in Los Angeles. Hope they poured a metaphorical one for the recently deceased Gary Coleman). As the dweeby yet knowledgeable host, he parked behind a laptop, asked the audience trivia questions about bygone musical eras and resigned himself to spinning pleasant background noise (Peggy Lee, Lambchop, etc.).
“If you have the ability to hallucinate right now, imagine bubbles,” Campbell suggested.
Psychedelics weren’t necessary to enjoy the show, however. Draped in a prism of fog and light, Stars did great service to the Ghosts album. So much like an ethereal thing herself, co-vocalist and guitarist Amy Millan would coo and bounce, as Campbell countered her serene stage presence with his hammy gestures. The push-and-pull tension escalated on the sneering electroclash of “We Don’t Want Your Body”, with Millan playing a dismissive woman as her band mate coyly buried his head into her shoulders. Save for a goof-up on the relaxing “Changes”, which prompted Millan to exclaim, “The monster came from Mulholland Drive and stole our beats,” the Ghosts tunes scared up positive responses.
With mouth to melodica, Campbell led his team into the second set, leaping right into the sweeping “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead”. The attendees’ voices powered over his, but he was more than happy to share the microphone with whichever tone-deaf first-row fans felt compelled to belt along with him. This was their show as much as it was Stars’. It’s a rare blessing when bands are literal crowd-pleasers, honoring requests and thanking everyone for selecting lesser-known songs. Millan nearly cartwheeled over the prospect of playing “A Thread Cut with a Carving Knife” off 2008’s Sad Robots (Arts & Crafts) EP.
Stars may straddle the fine line between optimism, pessimism and realism, but hope tends to win out, even when they’re rousing listeners into anarchy. The encore included the uppity “Set Yourself on Fire”, which Campbell introduced with: “When there is nothing left to burn, you must set those British Petroleum stations on fire!” The audience complied by jumping up and down and shouting out lyrics as though they were a punk rock congregation. Beer spilled as the emotive group spilled their guts.
The intimacy Stars conjures no matter where they land is astounding. Whether selling out the tiny Troubadour or entertaining the masses at gargantuan festivals, Stars always strive to connect with that sea of faces staring back at them. Their communal attitude has made them a must-see act for a decade now, and on the strength of The Five Ghosts, their reign as friendliest indie rockers around is in no peril of ending.
// Notes from the Road
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