Show Review: Stars with Dead Child Star at The Independent, 6/19/2010

by Gordon Elgart on June 20, 2010

Excited Stars

Stars is one band that I like to think “gets it.” Their previous album, In Our Bedroom After the War, was released for sale the moment it was finished, letting their fans buy it before they were even offered the chance to download it. For their newest album, The Five Ghosts, they announced they were going to do a tour before the album “came out,” playing the entirety of the album. Not only that, but fans attending the shows could actually buy the album at the show as opposed to waiting for the release date. And to top it all off, each show had a website poll offering the chance for each city to pick the songs they wanted to hear in the remainder of the set. This is a band that gets how to interact with their fans in the new music economy. So how did it all go?

The opener was Dead Child Star, which was nothing more than a quiet DJ set done by Stars lead singer Torquil Campbell. He sat down at a little table, picked songs out of a laptop, and played them in the dark while blowing bubbles. He referred to it as a “listening party,” which was a more apt description. He didn’t play anything that was egging the crowd on to dance, but rather a selection of pop songs, the influence of which are apparent in Stars’ own music. My particular favorites were Donald Fagen’s “I.G.Y.” and the Trashcan Sinatras track “Should I Pray?” Torq (as he introduced himself) asked trivia questions between songs with the new CD as a prize as well. This is the kind of DJ set I’d like to do for people. (Let me know if you need a classic-song-playing, trivia-question-asking DJ for your next party.)

Tiny bubbles

When the full band came on stage, they were greeted with a crazy reception, but as the band played their new album, in order, as advertised, the crowd mainly stood still in rapt attention. Even songs that asked for dancing, especially the dare-I-say Scissor Sisters-ish “We Don’t Want Your Body” was met with mostly staring straight ahead by the sold out crowd. Personally, I made the choice not to find a copy of the new album before coming to this show, and it was apparent to me that most of the audience had done the same. So basically, someone said “hey come over and I’ll play you the new album by one of your favorite bands,” but that someone wasn’t some guy who had it on CD, or even vinyl, but it was the band themselves. Normally, I find full-album shows a bit boring (you always know what’s coming next), but this was thrilling. I was picking out favorite tracks as the set went on: “I Died So I Could Haunt You,” “He Dreams He’s Awake,” and “The Last Song Ever Written.”

After the album set and a twenty-minute break, Stars came back out to play the songs selected by the audience. Any fears I had about this being a boring, stare-straight-ahead-why-are-you-even-here audience disappeared instantly as a chorus of voices started singing along with the set opener, “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead.” Not only was the crowd noticeably more animated, but the band itself had a certain comfort level with these songs that pushed the excitement level up a notch, tossing flowers into the audience with every crescendo. I’m sure Campbell’s rocking the melodica a few times also had a lot to do with the palpable excitement in the air; everyone loves a rare instrument. Truly, Torquil Campbell was the MVP of this show. He was both the opening DJ, the polemicist (asking us all to boycott Arizona) and the charismatic front man tonight; how cool is that? His live singing is spectacularly good. While his vocals and melodies often resemble Morrissey, his gracious and happy-to-see-you stage demeanor absolutely don’t. He’s a joy to watch, and even standing next to Amy Millan, he captures the audience’s attention.

Caught in a rare spotlight

The fan-selected part of the show was a treat from beginning to end. While most of the choices were plain obvious: “Take Me to the Riot,” “Set Yourself on Fire,” and “Ageless Beauty” were obviously going to be there, we were told that “Going, Going, Gone” only made the cut here in San Francisco. We’re special! With six songs off of Set Yourself on Fire, it’s clear what the fan-favorite album is.

We were promised Stars would return soon because “you gave us a life in music,” and if you’re not going tonight, please go see them the next time. They’re a wonderful band playing wonderful songs, and if you’re new to them, this new album (spinning as I write this; I’m good at music trivia) is a great place to start. While Campbell suggested stealing $12 from a friend to buy it if you’re going to steal it, the more pragmatic Millan said “however you get it, I hope you’ll like it.” I’m sure you will.

Stars’ Set List for 6/19/10 at The Independent in San Francisco

The Five Ghosts
Dead Hearts
Wasted Daylight
I Died So I Could Haunt You
We Don’t Want Your Body
He Dreams He’s Awake
The Passenger
The Last Song Ever Written
How Much More
Winter Bones
Your Ex-Lover Is Dead
Soft Revolution
Take Me to the Riot
Going, Going, Gone
Elevator Love Letter
Set Yourself on Fire
One More Night
Calendar Girl
My Radio
Ageless Beauty

Photographs by David Price. There’s more on his website.

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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