Stars at First Avenue, 3/26/13

Stars at First Avenue, 3/26/13
Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen

with Milo Greene and Said the Whale
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Tuesday, March 26, 2013

You really can't blame a guy for being happy. From the outset of Canadian indie collective Stars' show in the Mainroom last night, it was clear that this was a band extremely happy to be in Minneapolis. It especially came through in the way lead singer Torquil Campbell spastically jumped and danced around the stage, and the way he regaled the audience between songs.

"I know every band says this when they play here," Campbell said early in the night, showing keen self-awareness. "But it's really heavy to be playing here." He then went on to  explain that his parents met right here in Minneapolis, at the Guthrie -- where, supposedly, they also "fucked for the first time." (We appreciate the sentiment, anyway.)

See Also:
Slideshow: Stars at First Avenue, 3/26/13

That, er, enthusiasm set the tone for the rest of the band, and all things told, it was a tight, energetic set. Stars have played dramatic and heartfelt melodies together for over a dozen years now, and the energy hardly dipped at all as they tore off one sugary pop power-ballad after another. But, truth to be told, this was a two-person show at best: The night revolved around Campbell and fellow singer, Amy Millan, while the other four members blended politely into the disco-ball-adorned background.

The interactions between Campbell and Millan were instructive for the music, and a hint of calculated sexual tension came across as they duetted, playfully, on songs like "Wishful" and "Dead Hearts." It was in the way that would you expect between close friends: innocuously, wholesomely, even asexually. These were, almost without exception, love songs, but love never felt like a matter of life and death.

Stars at First Avenue, 3/26/13
Stars at First Avenue, 3/26/13
Photos by Anna Gulbrandsen

This situation was clearly demonstrated by a new song sung by Millan midway through the set. "This is a song about losing your virginity," she said beforehand, "which I'm assuming most of you have done." The story ends with one character's mother showing up, and the narrator bleeding -- but only because she cuts herself jumping a fence. Love, then, and even sex, was a fun perk, maybe cause for a sly joke, but somehow -- even as characters felt wronged or cheated by another -- it never felt like there were real stakes involved. There was just too much uplift elsewhere.

These moments morphed into battle cries as the night wore on. Campbell -- who started out with a blazer and glasses on, took both off, and eventually put the blazer back on -- gradually took on a more aggressive style in his cheerleading. The audience was amazing, he would point out; they'd really raised their game this time around. And the implication, in a way, was that we were all in this together, in spite of all the doubters out there. You almost got the feeling that Campbell, playing to this full house, felt some sort of redemption, a middle finger of sorts to those who might say his music was just too positive.

Stars at First Avenue, 3/26/13

That defiance came through in the songs as well, which built to their most furious pitch at the end of the main set--"Hold On When You Get Love" and "Take Me to the Riot" came back-to-back, and both not only sounded huge, but they were also almost hostile in their optimism. "Take the weakest link in you," Campbell proclaimed in "Hold On," "and beat the bastards with it." Being happy wasn't easy, after all, so perhaps you really did have to earn it -- or, at least, fight to hold onto it.
In the end, the band members sat down onstage, with only a guitar and keys plunking along, to sing "The 400." In light of all the energy and exuberance that came before, it felt a bit like a comedown, Campbell reciting over and over, "It has to go right this time." But, not one to sound too defeated, he stood up at the very end, as though a thought had just occurred to him. Without using his mike, bellowed the words into the room, and they carried all the way to the back, loud and clear -- It has to go right.

Stars at First Avenue, 3/26/13
Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen

Critic's Bias: I'm generally a happy kinda guy, although listening to this band makes me wonder: Could I be happier?

The Crowd: Yep, there was definitely a crowd. I refuse to use labels though.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Yeah, I'm gonna party my ass off. But I'm not gonna fuck HER!!!"

Random Notebook Dump: I missed the openers, but Campbell said Milo Greene had given them weed, so they must've been nice guys.

The Theory of Relativity
A Song Is a Weapon
The North
We Don't Want Your Body
Soft Revolution
The Loose Ends Will Make Knots
Dead Hearts
Midnight Coward
What I'm Trying to Say
Ageless Beauty
Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It
Take Me to the Riot

Elevator Love Song
Your Ex-Lover Is Dead
The 400

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