by Liz Miller
Stars | Diamond Rings | California Wives October 5, 2012 Plush
Stars sings cinematic. Epic stories pour comedy, tragedy, love, lust and longing from soulful singers Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell, through the sweeping instrumentation by bassist Evan Cranley, drummer Patty McGee and keyboardist/occasional guitarist Chris Seligman. The Canadian electro-pop quintet's lyrics are complex and clever, with self-awareness that belies the band's earnestness. They might be sad, or they just might be trying to remember your name.
Heavy rain and moody skies hung over St. Louis yesterday preceding Stars show at Plush (3224 Locust Street; 314-535-2686) -- kind of a flawless backdrop for Stars' theatrics.
Two openers, California Wives and Diamond Rings, built upon each other's unlike sounds to bright results -- and rounded out an thoroughly un-Google-able line-up. California Wives, a four-piece outfit from Chicago whose first full-length album Art History dropped on October 2, sing cheery pop songs that blend catchy, well-crafted hooks with driving New Wave noise. The crowd at Plush had yet to fill-out when California Wives took the stage at 8 p.m., but what audience there was swayed and nodded their heads, rapt in attention to the band's infectious, biting sound.
By 8:45 p.m., Stars other tour support, Diamond Rings -- the stage name of fellow Canadian musician John O'Regan -- was primed to make Plush bleed glam rock. To call O'Regan flamboyant or eccentric are sorry understatements -- his aesthetic conjures the androgyny of David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust and of Grace Jones, his vocal range rivals the wide-breath of Morrissey. That is, if Morrissey occasionally rapped in song, too. O'Regan, clad in white denim, white high-tops, white-rimmed sunglasses and a white leather jacket trimmed with a studded, glitzy collar, commanded the stage and audience at Plush through sight, sound and spectacle, with dance moves as slick and polished as his lavish music. For their part, the crowd at Plush joined the party, dancing, singing along, welcoming O'Regan's pelvic thrusts at stage's edge with open arms. If California Wives warmed the crowd with articulate pop songs, Diamond Rings did so with intense, icy candor studded with electro, dancey edge.As Diamond Rings pulsed to a triumphant close at 9:20 p.m. the audience buzzed with energy for Stars, who was slated to follow just ten minutes later. But that never happens at rock shows, no matter how much you hoot, holler, clap or complain, and Stars is worth the wait. At 10:07 p.m., after much finagling with instruments, amps and pedalboards, the band emerged, wasting no more time and beginning with "The Theory of Relativity" the first track on its latest album, The North, released in September. Ever an arresting live band, Stars' crystalline albums translate seemlessly on stage and then some -- the piercing passion and chemistry between Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell sparks, mesmerizes, aches a narrative all its own.
Older fan favorites "Elevator Love Letter," "Your Ex-Lover is Dead," "Soft Revolution," "The Comeback" and "Take Me To The Riot" were exuberant and joyful, thanks to gorgeous, lush performance and an audience who devoutly sang along to each word -- especially during "Your Ex-Lover is Dead," which saw Campbell turn the mic toward the audience as its collective voice swelled louder than the bands. Past breathed alongside present with newer selections, plenty of dance, playfulness and raw enthusiasm from a starry-eyed crowd.
A short encore of "The Comeback" and "The 400" faded out a sparkling set, with Campbell announcing a DJ set to follow, because, "We never stop interacting with fucking music." At least till 1 a.m. at Plush, that proved true.
Critic's Notebook: Personal Bias: This is the third time I've seen Stars live show in six years, and dammit, it's as good, if not better, now as it ever was. Random Detail: Amy Millan dancing in stiletto heels is as impressive as, presumably, everything Amy Millan does. Overheard: Stars delayed start left at least one man in the crowd antsy enough to spout stand-up: "How many French-Canadians does it take to sound-check a drum kit?"
Setlist: The Theory of Relativity Fixed A Song is a Weapon Ageless Beauty The North We Don't Want Your Body Through the Mines Your Ex-Lover is Dead How Much More Do You Want to Die Together? Backlines Soft Revolution Lights Changing Colour Dead Hearts Elevator Love Letter Progress Midnight Coward Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It Take Me To The Riot Walls
Encore: The Comeback The 400