Stars display pop mastery in Chicago

Alex Schaaf

Usually when I go to a concert, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect. With Stars, however, I wasn’t sure what would be coming. I got into Stars just over this past year, sucked in by their elaborate pop orchestrations and the beautiful vocals of Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan, the two main singers.Hailing from Canada, the band just released its latest, “In Our Bedroom After the War.” The newest album impresses, but does not live up to previous releases, such as “Heart” and “Set Yourself On Fire,” the finest album as of yet.

The band displays a mastery of the pop song, using strings and keyboards along with the standard rock lineup of guitar-bass-drums to create complex orchestrations on its albums. Millan’s vocals add the unique touch that sets Stars apart from other similar bands, as her breathy, soft sound matches perfectly with Campbell’s voice, making them sound like two sides of one voice.

Stars played last Friday night at the Vic Theatre in Chicago. The reason that I was a little leery before the show was that I was afraid Stars’ orchestrations would not be able to be loyally reconstructed in a live setting, and that many of their laid-back songs would lack the energy needed to sustain the crowd throughout the show.

My doubts, however, were mostly quelled. I did miss the lush string arrangements that were so beautifully displayed on the records, but they made up for it with a surprising amount of energy.

Certain songs took on a life of their own in the live setting. The band opened with “Take Me to the Riot,” one of their most straightforward rock songs. They followed that with “Elevator Love Letter,” one of their classics, which worked the crowd into a frenzy.

“What I’m Trying To Say” was another highlight, with Millan almost screaming the chorus: “I am trying to say/what I want to say/without having to say/I love you.” So many of their songs came off as near-anthems in the live setting, with the crowd singing along to every word.

Stars is well known for being very romantic, singing about new love, old love, lost love, painful love, and any other kind of love you could imagine. The stage echoed this feeling, with flowers everywhere that the band would throw into the crowd between songs.

Not everything was up to expectations, however. The rest of the band, besides Campbell and Millan, did not always meet the energy level set by the leads. Keyboardist Chris Seligman looked like he was typing out business memos all night, and the guitarist barely got into any of his solos. Thankfully, however, Campbell and Millan were more than enough to carry the show.

After a four-song encore, the band closed with “Tonight,” a slow piano ballad off of their seldom-played earlier album, “Nightsongs.” It is not one of my favorite methods of closing a show, as opposed to ending on a higher-energy song, but Campbell pulled it off with his wistful vocals, finally matching the quality that he achieved so many times on the band’s albums.

Several songs throughout the night showed Campbell and Millan stretching to have their voices heard, and losing the soft-sung quality that they so delicately reach on their albums, but on “Tonight,” Campbell found that place again, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

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