Occasionaly, guys make the mistake of asking things like, “What band do you want to see?” This type of indiscretion can result in men going to see concerts by The Donnas or Sara Bareilles. Stars definitely fits into the “ultra girly” category with their brand of electro pop, and about seven years ago I swallowed my pride and took my lady to see the band live. It was awesome.
Stars has proven in their nearly 15 year long career that they know how to put on a great show, and I don’t care if I lose guy points for loving Stars, I love them. They create that perfect style of sentimental yet artistic pop that leaves every face weeping and every rug cut, and their performance at El Rey Theatre on Thursday was no exception.
The opener was a four-piece indie outfit from Oakland called Trails & Ways. After careful consideration, the best way I can think to describe this group is Camera Obscura doing a cover of Talking Heads doing a cover of “Zou Bisou Bisou.”
I love being surprised by an opening band, and Trails & Ways surprised me in the best of ways. It would have been all too easy to pass them off as “another hipster band” when they first walked out on stage. Two girls and two guys, one of whom was a drummer who played while standing (insert my judgy drummer face), but from the first note of Trails & Ways’ set, it was clear the audience was impressed.
Their danceable poppy rhythms kept the crowd moving, and their lead guitarists’ sense for melody was incredible. Every song featured a different lead singer, and everyone in the band sang. Their harmonies sounded like one perfect voice. Their songs were simple and catchy, and by the end of their set I started thinking how awesome it would be if I began playing drums while standing up. Keep an eye out for Trails & Ways. Their EP is fantastic, and they are currently writing a full-length that I’m sure will measure up.
A huge roar from an adoring fan base greeted Stars when they took the stage. As I mentioned before, their fans are predominantly female, and that special, high-range girl scream penetrated the first notes of Stars’ set.
Stars has figured out a perfect combination of male/female lead vocals. Some songs are lead mostly by one singer or the other, but for the most part, Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan share the spotlight and support one another as a team. On record, Campbell tends to soften his voice, but he lets loose live, revealing a power and depth similar to that of Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode, while Millan has the smooth, soft voice of an angel.
More often than not, when a synth-heavy pop band like Stars plays live these days, they have at least one computer running tracks. With a keyboardist sporting a four-keyboard collection and a rhythm section that is near-perfect, Stars has no need for tracks or tempo-synching. Stars performs with real talent, creativity, and passion.
Their on stage personas are infinitely entertaining. I will never forget the first time I saw them live. Campbell went off stage for a brief moment to throw on a jacket covered in light bulbs. Though that sort of flash was not present at El Rey last week, there was still plenty back and forth play between the two singers and enough crowd interaction to keep everyone entertained.
Stars covered much of their catalogue, including two of my favorite tracks, “Take Me To The Riot” from 2007′s In Our Bedroom After The War and “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” from 2005′s Set Yourself On Fire. The set also included no shortage of songs from the band’s latest effort, The North. The room shook from the bouncing crowd when the band played what is probably their biggest hit in “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It.”
Stars seemed to enjoy what they said would be their last performance in Los Angeles for a while. After this tour they will be writing and recording yet another album that is sure to please fans. When they do come back, make sure you are at the show, even if you’re a dude.
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