I am always amazed by the contrast in some of my experiences with a band. Prior to walking into The Bottleneck, a modestly-sized yet historic Midwest venue in Lawrence, Kansas, my only experience with Stars had been at Austin City Limits in the company of 35,000 people. Yet, even in such overwhelmingly unimpressive conditions, the band had managed to spark a nerve in me. I returned home from Austin and embarked on a fairly hearty internet shopping spree. Having fallen in love with them in a cluster-fuck of strangers and remained married to them, spinning their albums on repeat on a daily basis, having access to this far more intimate show was the highlight of the season.
Regardless of the pedestal I had placed them on, the band did not disappoint.
Starting off strong with “Theory of Relativity” from the new album The North, the band wasted no time proving that their dancehall hooks would not cause them any issues. With pristine vocals and perfect levels due to the combination of elements on stage and at the sound board, “show of the year” caliber was certainly possible. This would not change over the course of the band’s 21 track set. With energy bigger than the bar itself the band can manage to turn any environment into prom. The band travels with carry-on luggage stuffed full of indie rock dance party vibes, but not in that cheeky and cliché Passion Pit kind of way. The sound isn’t over-produced and it isn’t polished to the point of dead and hollow sound lacking emotion. Hell, Amy Millan’s heart bleeds for you right there on stage. The band is solid and raw. However, more amazingly than that, they’re tight. Every note, sound and squeak the band makes is perfectly calculated and meticulously planned. This is no small feat for a band with so damn much going on. The band sports vocals blended angelically and an orchestra of instrumentation more complicated than dating a girl with daddy issues. They shift and spook, turning on a dime musically and endlessly changing their mind about where they want to be. Yet in terms of cohesiveness, these sounds, all of them, represent that catchy Stars signature. Not knowing what they’re going to do next is what makes them so addictive.
As though the above isn’t impressive enough, Stars adds yet another element to their live show, blowing 90 percent of live bands right out of the water as though music were a double elimination game of Battleship. Stacked above the band’s wall of sound and tricky hooks is a level of songwriting rivaled by very few in the industry. Stars have this amazing ability to take those particles of memories that they have placed to music and relive them emotionally night after night on stage. With tragic and candid interactions, the group’s duel front men Millan and Torquil Campbell convey a level of bruising and life experience few stages hold. With blood on the dance floor and drum machines keeping time with the beating of broken hearts, the band puts themselves in the spotlight in the most honest and vulnerable manners possible. While tugging your heartstrings, they’re repeatedly puncturing theirs.
It takes courage to be that brave and open on an album. That alone is to be respected. However, to do so on a stage in a room cluttered and crowded with complete strangers is commendable. It is to be rewarded. That is why right now, in my not so humble opinion, no band deserves your love more than Stars.
You can find a Spotify playlist of their Lawrence, Kansas Setlist here.
Written by: Joshua Hammond