At its best, the Montreal-based indie rockers Stars are cute, catchy, and eloquent. At its worst, Stars are redundant, boring and shallow. I've felt that way about the band's albums since I first dropped Set Yourself on Fire into my CD player in 2004.
Stars' performance last night at the Pageant was wholly representative of the vastly divergent quality of their material.
The band took the stage (which featured metallic flowers sprouting from the mics, amps, and drum set) at 9:20 p.m. At times the sextet rocked hard, with songs that were much more guitar-driven than their recorded counterparts. Case-in-point was a rollicking rendition of "Bitches in Tokyo" in which vocalist/guitar player Amy Millan wailed away on her cream-colored Les Paul, and a similarly intense version of "Violent" from 2001’s The Comeback EP.
Other numbers, however, were merely yawn inducing. Lead vocalist Torquil Campbell aptly described the song "Undercover" from the recently released Sad Robots EP as having "a Vicodin/Phil Collins vibe," two things that just aren't very fun on their own or combined. The song "Reunion," with lines like "All I wanted was one more chance to be young and wild and free," was as cheesy as it's always been and even less engaging as Campbell and Milan sung the lyrics more to each other than the audience.
On the whole, the hour and a half set was entertaining -- but far from stellar. The band had an amazing light show, which featured strobes, light towers and a full-size projector screen behind the stage. They also employed some clever gimmicks, such as heaving handfuls of flower petals into the crowd. The set list was a nice blend of old favorites like "What I’m Trying to Say," from 2004’s Set Yourself on Fire with new material. Even the banter was good, as Campbell talked about everything from the Cardinals game that afternoon to how crazy the Arch would look on acid.
In the end, however, like the music of Broken Social Scene (of which three Stars members are a part), it seems as though I'll only ever appreciate about half of what I hear from the band.
The opener, Ireland's Bell X1, delivered an uninspiring 30-minute set to open the night. At one point lead singer Paul Noonan informed the crowd that, "This song had the dubious honor of being played on The OC when the two girls break it off."
Save for a catchy, dark-disco version of their hit, "Flame," all the songs sounded like they could have been used for that moment.