Stars / Diamond Rings @ The Mayan – 10/18/2012
Apparently Los Angeles was the first city that the indie coed class-act that is Stars could draw a crowd outside of their native land up in Montreal. Within the confines of The Mayan, an ancient Aztec theatre in downtown LA, the whimsical vocal duets of this Canadian band took their time in reaffirming us of their worth. And they are so very worthy.
Before we get to that, a country-mate by the name of Diamond Rings preceeded our headliners. If you’re into !!!(pronounced “chick chick chick” – or White Lies, you’d have enjoyed this dance party. A few shades shy of being albino and transcending gender to a certain extent, John O’Regan turned it on, and it stayed on. In his skinny white jeans, white tank top and matching white guitar, he explored the stage engaging every single audience member. O’Regan has some serious white-boy moves, but he exuded this presence and immersed himself completely into the music so it actually gave permission to the audience to dance around as much as they wanted. With the closing hip hop-infused moments of DR’s final song, “Day & Night” – which happens to be the final track on their latest release, Free Dimensional – the crowd showed a good amount of appreciation. The Mayan was about a third of the way full and it seemed like a lot of the attendees came to see Diamond Rings as well as Stars.
Beneath four of the biggest disco balls I’ve ever seen – nowhere near as jaw-dropping as the massive fifth ball in the center – a simple opening song played through the PA to provide an entrance soundtrack for Stars. They were well-received and imediately got into their synth-driven brand of indie rock.
They have a well-rounded band with multi-instrumentalists and singers overlapping duties from song to song. One of their more intense players, occupying stage right, donned a black button up shirt and jean vest, alternating between keyboard, bass and electric guitar. Atop a modest but impactful drum riser, their drummer sported a dressier aesthetic, all the while steadily driving the entire show; flawless. He admittingly looked like a flamboyant mobster with his patterned tie, suspenders, sunglasses and crisp fedora. The female singer of the group, Amy Millan, alternated between holding a guitar or just a mic, and singer/songwriter Torquil Campbell sang and played a white D-shaped tamborine from time to time, even slinging the mic over his shoulder every now and again to lay down a keyboard or melodica line. The keyboardist mastered two intense rigs with two-tiered stands, and in his black outfit he supported every ebb and flow of their set with synths and beautiful piano performances. Last but not least, one calm and helpful roadie made transitions seamless, allowing Stars to interact with the audience and present their show.
I’d say the tone of the show was along the lines of – your friends, who happen to be in a great band, want to play you some tunes at a cool venue. At a few points in the show, Campbell would look at the audience with dissapointed eyes, taunting everyone to sing along. There is an instant rapport with these non-Americans, and the whole show felt like a party.
As they eventually lowered all five disco balls, the reflective gang threw layers of spinning roads of light over everything in its path, each bounce of light traveling at a different speed. The M.C. Escher-esque tarp behind them and illuminated drum riser added wonderfully to the stellar light design. There was stimuli in every direction; at one point I caught the reflection of Campbell in the kick drum head, as it blurred and refocused to the beat of the drummer’s heavy foot. Whether they tossed flourescent rings into the crowd or danced around in front of the Escher cityscape (that also covers their amps) there was a lot to take in.
Seeing them live for the first time, I was drawing a completely new set of comparisons to their sound. In my show notes, I wrote this formula: The XX + Airborne Toxic Event + Canada = STARS. Their calm vocal trade-off between a man and a woman is reminiscent of the two singers in The XX, though Stars’ music is way more produced and developed. Campbell’s voice and inflection reminded me of Morrissey actually, and he coincidentally dedicated a song to him during the set. They even made me think of Cursive, achieving pop and dissonance at the same time.
My one dissapointment with the evening has to do with the difference between the record and the live versions of a few of their songs. Part of my interest and love for Stars lies in their use of ecclectic instrumentation. While they do stack the stage with multi-instrumentalists and killer musicians, the live cellos and horns were missed by the musician in me. They played a few tracks with some great orchestral compositions, and I would have loved to have seen a cello out there. I read that Torquil plays trumpet as well, and that would have been a great addition to the show.
Either way, their set sadly closed out with an epic performance of “Take Me To The Riot.” The drummers suspenders had since come off of his shoulders, and they had no more transitions to necessitate switching guitars. Each band member peeled off one-by-one. First Millan bows out, followed by the bassist, guitarist, keyboardist, drummer, until finally Campbell left with a wave.
Part of the reason I called them a “class-act” in the beginning of this piece is because of their encore. Amidst a sea of audience-crafted chants for more music, they deservingly returned for an encore; one last song. One song would do the trick too, as they treated the die-hard LA crowd to a duet between the keyboardist and the male singer, sprinkled with some guitar. The rest of the band leaned casually on the drum riser that was now unlit, and their female singer lazily harmonized for the last time that evening. With the cycling lyrical line, “it has to go right this time,” they closed the night out on a solemn note, despite their energetic set that came before. Drinks-in-hand, they waved goodbye – now without their sunglasses – and Los Angeles cheered. The merch line was flowing for the entirity of the show, and I’m sure we’ll see much more of Stars sometime soon.
“The Theory Of Relativity”
“A Song Is A Weapon”
“We Don’t Want Your Body”
“Through The Mines”
“Your Ex-Lover Is Dead”
“Do You Want To Die Together?”
“Lights Changing Colour”
“Elevator Love Letter”
“How Much More”
“Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It”
“Take Me To The Riot”