Stars Unleash All of New Album on Independent

Photo: Starry-eyed. Amy Millan takes the lead during Canadian band Stars' show at the Independent in promotion of their new album.
Tim Maloney/Staff
Starry-eyed. Amy Millan takes the lead during Canadian band Stars' show at the Independent in promotion of their new album.

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Stars played two shows at the Independent in San F...


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It's not often that a band lays out their coveted set list at the beginning of a show. So when Canadian indie-pop group Stars started their set at the Independent in San Francisco by announcing the album and track number of their songs, it was a little strange. But after the oddness wore off, the tutorial-like information was welcomed; no late-night-YouTube-track-look-up needed. Stars played their entire new album The Five Ghosts, track by track, took a break and then played some old favorites. It was a pleasant surprise and a smart choice as the album has a natural progression great for a live show. And not so surprisingly, ending with a hit is, usually, a hit.

The band's members, including energetic front duo Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell, are part of the ever revolving lineup of fellow Canadian band, Broken Social Scene. But Stars clearly had their own fans. The back-to-back shows last weekend at the Independent were sold out. From the response of the audience during the encore when Millan asked "Anyone been with us since 2001?", these were nearly decade-long fans lining the walls. And they stuck around, despite the two breaks the band took between the Five Ghosts tracks and the older stuff and before their encore.

Having played an entire album plus old singles, Stars covered all their bases. Songs ranged from pop rock like "Fixed" to the middle school slow-dance "Changes." Aiding the congruity of the tracks were the three keyboards - four, if you include the melodica, a half flute, half mini keyboard that Campbell pulled out late in the set.

Despite the multiple vocals, keys and guitars on stage, Stars didn't underestimate the value of a showcased kick drum or lone piano riff. There were thoughtfully placed simplistic sections of songs like in the ethereal, '80s-esque, ethereal "He Dreams He's Awake." But the synth aspects of the tracks hold the group's sound together along with Millan's haunting voice. Her high-pitch but mesmerizing vocals had a dream-like quality. Campbell's lower, rougher, clearly British voice created a nice contrast to Milan's, especially during their harmonies like in "I Died So I Could Haunt You."

Stars had fun onstage. Millan and Campbell sang into each others faces on the catchy electro chorus of "We Don't Want Your Body." The group never took themselves too seriously. At one point, Millan, unsuccessfully, tried to understand the muddled words of a screaming fan. Campbell offered his best guess, "I hear, 'Are you a lesbian astronaut?'" The crowd cheered."Yes!" Millan exclaimed, "I am." Campbell then asked, "Anyone need anything else before we proceed with the next song? I've got some peanuts ..."

While the instrumentation was tight and the antics mildly entertaining, there were some boring moments, like during "The Last Song Ever Written" where the music became background and conversations with bartenders or talk about cute boys seemed to take precedent. Some of Stars' tracks are better suited for long car rides or sound tracks and just don't translate live.

Still, the show was solid and Millan's vocals alone were worth the trip. Her voice is absolutely beautiful and makes Stars' music much more tangible considering their produced sound. And rounding out the show with well-known tracks like "Take Me To The Riot" and "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead" had the crowd singing in unison, attracting back the flirtatious and inattentive. The Stars show was like a musical three-course meal: carefully organized and successfully executed.


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