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Stars. Photos by Nic Pouliot.
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STARS with JULY TALK at Lee’s Palace, Saturday, January 18 Rating: NNNN
It's a little ironic that swoony Toronto/Montreal stalwarts Stars' would-be hit Hold On When You Get Love features this knowing gem of a line: "The world won't listen to this song/And the radio won't play it..." Well, their hometown now has a station that will, thanks to Indie 88, which brought Stars back to their old stomping grounds for a bash to celebrate the fledgling station's recent signal increase.
Given that the few tickets available sold out in minutes (with proceeds going to local youth arts group Sketch), the giddy vibe from the jam-packed room was no surprise. When Stars took the stage to a hero's welcome with The Night Starts Here, it was hard not to wonder if their epic sound no longer translated to small rooms (this time last year, they were playing the Air Canada Centre), with their huge atmospherics lost in a wall of muddy sound. Luckily, those glitches were quickly resolved - recent tunes like A Song Is A Weapon and upbeat new number Wishful giving those who hadn't seen the band in recent years a taste of the full-on rock spectacle the band can deliver, complete with singer Torquil Campbell's requisite scathing anti-Stephen Harper tirades.
Relishing the chance to revisit one of their formative venues (they even played six consecutive shows in a row at Lee's back in 2005), the band reminisced about gigs past (angel-voiced vocalist/guitarist Amy Millan recalled the band gracing the cover of NOW back in 2002 before a show at Lee's that was nearly cancelled when she badly burned her hand) and seemed to embrace the opportunity to get a little looser than their usual precision-honed sets.
They may not be the twinkly twee popsters of yesteryear, but Stars still know how to deliver the romance - albeit tempered with a good dose of melancholy. If there was ever a moment that encapsulates Stars' dark/light ethos, Millan's "I'm going to kill you by hugging you to death!" aside to Campbell that prefaced a note-perfect reading of Your Ex-Lover Is Dead may very well be it. And the kids who now make up the bulk of their fanbase might not have recognized the opening strains of Look Up, but those of us who wore out the Heart album sure did.
In Stars and openers July Talk (who are also more than ready to graduate to bigger stages with their frenetic live show), Indie 88 smartly chose two acts that embody the station's spirit: indie, sure, but with plenty of heart and huge ambition to spare.