Monday, March 24, 2008

Stars Concert (and Various Other Sundries)

At Tech, pursuant to all that I've noticed about the population and related behaviors, there's something fishy about the weekends. Either people shut themselves in their rooms or flee campus like Abaddon himself brought the keys to the Pit of Fire and unleashed it upon the Kessler Campanile. (There is something shady about that place...) In downtown Athens, this is not the case. People are out, walking around, doing things, and not wearing a perpetual "the world is out to screw me" frown.

I was later assured that no, it's not some sort of fantastical paradise, just an extension of the UGA bubble. That's in much the same way, for instance, that Atlantic Station or the Howell Mill Kroger seems like an extension of the Tech bubble at times. (Tangent: that Howell Mill Kroger has been very, very good to me, on at least three occasions. They carry Stewart's Key Lime, for goodness' sake.) Essentially, it's yet another "grass is greener" case. But I do need to go back sometime.

My reason for being in Athens in the first place was to go to a concert by the band Stars. They're a bit on the obscure side, so I'll try to elucidate their music a bit. They're Canadian, and they describe their own music as "indie rock", but if you really want to pick and call it "indie pop" you wouldn't be off-base either. The first description of their music I heard was "like the Postal Service" which isn't incorrect, but I think a more apt description is "like the Postal Service, but a bit less electronic." Or, if you wanted to go further on a limb, "a bit like Rilo Kiley but less folksy." Even "sort of like Metric but a lot more melodic." If you can get those three to converge into a consistent sound, that's Stars. Last.fm also lists similar bands to be The New Pornographers and the Most Serene Republic, both bands that I have heard of and would probably like but am unfamiliar with.

One thing I feel like I need to bring up even before the concert itself: timing. Given "doors open at 8 pm" and "two opening bands", Matt logic would go something like this. Give people half an hour to straggle in, and for the opening bands to get their crap together. Start playing at 8:30, allot half an hour for each band, stop at 9:30. Allow 30 minutes for a set change (in my opinion, those things never need to take longer than 15 minutes, but I'll be generous here). No reason Stars should start playing any later than 10. Matt logic would have been incorrect. My intrepid band of concertgoers rolls in at 10:40 or so, and we still have to wait a few minutes to hear the main attraction. (That said, our timing was downright impeccable.) Perhaps this is too harsh, but I'd really like it if bands gave a reasonable approximation of their start time, not some wishful thinking to get everyone milling about for the better part of an hour.

The concert itself didn't disappoint. Like every show, it had its strong and weak points. One of the less-than-stellar (ha! pun!) points of the concert was the tendency to turn backs to the audience at otherwise-impressive technical moments. Big guitar solo? Better hide my guitar. Crucial riff on some synthesizer? Can't make eye contact with the people listening to it. That's not unique to Stars--it happens at just about every concert I've been to recently. And it's sort of irritating.

Some Stars fans would add another weak point was "anything that came off the most recent album". I've had that one since it came out (okay, since I got to the US after it came out), and I wrote a largely positive review of it. Yet several people I've talked to that have been Stars fans for a while disliked it. Why the negativity?

First, I believe that Heart and Set Yourself on Fire are sort of similar in character (the two albums before the most recent), and that Set Yourself on Fire and In Our Bedroom After the War are sort of similar too. If you're a Stars fan who's been listening to the early stuff since 2005, and this comes along in mid-2007, it's probably tougher to reconcile than for someone like me.

Second, the album contains a lot of what I've started calling "tofu songs". That is, they're neither remarkably good nor bad on their own. Instead, they take on the flavor of the rest of the album. And the rest of the album is gimmicky in parts. "Genova Heights", "Life 2", "Personal", "Barricade", and the title track all have some amount of gimmick to them. If you don't buy into the gimmick, you're probably going to hate these songs. Then, even give the strength of the truly good songs, the filler "tofu" is going to seem that much worse.

And finally, something I touched on back in August, the track placement is bad. You hear "The Night Starts Here" and "Take Me to the Riot" and think "yes, this is good music." Then, when the rest of the album fails to deliver to that standard, you naturally get disappointed.

While a lot of Stars' unique sound comes from the female vocalist Amy Millan, it's clear that the real showmanship comes from the male frontman Torquil Campbell (hey, he's Canadian). He was the one behind all the audience interaction, the one really getting us into the act. Even more impressively, he showed talent in both tenor and falsetto ranges, in addition to key harmonica, the mini Korg that so plagued Stars all night, and even the trumpet. I'd always assumed that the trumpet licks were studio jobs, and maybe on the CDs they were. But when Campbell pulled out a trumpet and did a surprisingly credible job, that pretty much made the concert for me.

Add that to a chance to break the Tech bubble (albeit entering the UGA one) and some excellent company, and it ended up being a great time. And as always after a concert, I have some awful amalgamation of the collective works of Stars stuck in my head.

Another concert alert: Eisley is headlining a tour, and they're coming to Atlanta. I'm not missing this one. But exactly one of three hundred-something people whom I'm friends with on Facebook proclaims to like them.... it's going to be a tough sell to get people to come along.


Currently listening: "What I'm Trying to Say," Stars, and "Listen," Chicago

1 comment:

Katherine said...

Torquil and Evan do all of the Stars trumpet parts, as far as I know. Torquil also plays trumpet for Broken Social Scene occasionally, so he's obviously sufficiently trained. (Amy, on the other hand, doesn't really strike me as a flautist.)