Sunday, November 25, 2007

Stars - Burton Cummings Theater, Winnipeg, Canada - Nov. 24, 2007

Quite a crowd showed up for Stars' return to Winnipeg since playing the Garrick Theatre in February 2006.

Doors opened at 8 p.m. and the line to buy merchandise was about 30 minutes long. Not a bad way to kill time, I suppose. I'm not sure what the attendance was but I would bet it was around 1,300 as there were fans even in the second balcony of the 1,646-seat venue.

Miracle Fortress took to the stage around 9 p.m. and at first I wasn't sure what band I was seeing. I can recall that Stars has two lead singers, with the guy having short blonde hair.

I quickly realized that they weren't playing anything that I recognized and they must have been some other band, but I didn't catch their name until later. The music was poppy and yet indie at the same time, but not as catchy as Stars' music. The drummer had possibly the best sound that I've heard at that venue.

Sitting in the centre of row four I could see, but not as well as I wanted. During intermission I went to the bar for water and my vantage point, looking over the tops of mostly teenage girls, was much better. I would say the audience was mostly teens and twenty-somethings with older folks being in the minority.

Opening the show with the infectious "Take Me To The Riot" from their new album, In Our Bedroom After The War, the sound was initially muddy but became better later on.

They played a variety of songs from their recordings, including some that the audience sang along to. During those particular moments the band aimed the mics at the audience and the mood turned warm and fuzzy.

Songs played included "Ageless Beauty," "My Ex-Lover Is Dead," "Personal," "Bitches In Tokyo," "Midnight Coward," "In Our Bedroom After The War," the funky "The Ghost of Genova Heights" (complete with falsetto vocals that recall Michael Jackson), among several others.

The five-song encore began with "The Night Starts Here," another instantly appealing song from the band's new album. Not everything was a simple pop, song however. Some were slow-moving, bitter soliloquies to failed relationships. I wouldn't necessarily describe them as ballads.

Throughout the show bassist Evan Cranely plucked flowers that decorated the set and threw them into the crowd, often trying to fling them as high as possible. It proved to be a popular move among the mostly teen and twenty-something crowd. Cranley's bass often stood out and he added some needed visual interest by dancing around a fair bit.

Co-lead singer and guitarist Amy Millan, who was in town earlier this year to promote her country solo album, didn't really crack a smile or look as if she was having a great time. That may have been her regular stage persona. Her eyes were like lasers, staring into Cranley's eyes without flinching as they two of them stood close together and played their instruments on a few occasions.

Torquil Campbell, the other singer, was an athletic foil to Millan's sombre presence. Stars are one of the few bands around with two lead singers, who sometimes sing the
same lines together while other times, their own verses.

He wowed the crowd as he knelt down right in front of the stage and sang directly in the faces of the stunned audience members. I absolutely love the sound of the trumpet and Campbell played his a few times during the show, which added even more variety to the overall sound.

On a couple of occasions, he praised the audience for showing up, curiously saying that they don't have a lot of friends and that having the turnout was something very special to the band. One thing is for certain, unlike some bands, Stars have managed to play larger and larger venues each time they returned to Winnipeg.

During the encore, at the end of one of the songs, the crowd kept on screaming "Amy!" as she handed out some short-stemmed roses to fans in the front. At the very end of the show, as the band members walked off the stage, Millan stayed behind to play the final chords of a song all by herself with her back turned to the audience. It was a poignant moment. As soon as the final note rung, she sped off the stage.

I would describe Stars as one of Canada's premiere indie bands, and Campbell, Millan and Cranley also contribute to the Canadian indie kings, Broken Social Scene.

Prior to releasing their CD, the band made the entire thing available for a free download, knowing that this would happen anyway, and hoping that fans and newcomers would like what they heard and would buy the CD. Months later, Radiohead tried something similar, where people could pay anything to download it.

My rating for this show is 4/5.

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