You know that feeling of being acquainted with a happy family and wishing you were a member of it? That’s what it was like to see Stars play at the Vic last Friday. They liked one another, and seemed to be playing for and to one another and it was impossible to be standing in that audience without wishing you could be up on that stage, too. Luckily, lead singer Torquil Campbell told his audience halfway through the concert, “Anybody can be in a band, guys. Just drink a lot and dress like your best friends.” My concert going companion and I stared at each other. We’re permanently unmusical, but it seemed there might be hope for us yet. I mean, we already drink enough.
Stars’ set felt like they wanted to include everyone from the beginning. A blue light shined from the stage and filled the Vic. It was like being inside a space station. And then, all of a sudden, you could feel this thumping inside your sternum, and you knew that they must love you, that it wasn’t just about them. They opened with “Take Me to the Riot,” the single from their newest studio album, In Our Bedroom After the War. But Stars are cleverer than many bands that find themselves playing songs that are mostly soft and slow and beautiful, or maybe categorized as twee: They leave these songs in their original incarnations on their albums, but inject them with newfound enormity for a live show like this one. “Take Me to the Riot” is a solid track as it appears on the album, but it became far more exciting, faster, louder, deeper, pounding, when they played it from their celestial stage Friday night.
The next song they played, “Set Yourself on Fire,” was also pumped with more euphoria than it has in the version on the 2005 album of the same name. This euphoria bled over into the rest of the show, staining everything Stars did with this crazy happiness. The stage was bizarrely covered with bouquets of roses, which had seemed like a gimmick during the unfortunate opening set, by The Zincs’ Jim Elkington. But when Stars stopped after every few songs to pull these roses out of their respective bouquets and toss them into the raised hands of an adoring audience, it felt strangely genuine, somehow seeming truer than the love celebrated at the weddings brought to mind by their generous flower-throwing.
These flowers covering the stage were like a litmus test for the bands that played. They enhanced the Stars’ appeal, but earlier, when they had been on stage behind Elkington during his opening set, they had made him seem to be performing in a funeral parlor. Elkington, as my companion put it, had “roughly as much stage presence as Noam Chomsky.” (I don’t know if you went to “In Defense of Academic Freedom” at the Rock a few weeks ago, but Chomsky’s contribution, via prerecorded video, was like watching an infomercial staged by chronic mumblers.) Elkington kept winking at us and swaying like a pendulum, as if he were hot enough or good enough to get away with these things, but he had neither of these qualities. The only recourse we were left with was to abstain from clapping when his shitty prerecorded drumbeats finally ended.
His jarring contrast to the Stars’ set made them come off as even more fantastic, though. Not only do Stars love us and want to be our friends, but they are also blunt and honest, confiding in us with great exuberance as only true badasses can. Torq cried, “To the imagination, ladies and gentlemen. Speaking of which, here’s a song about fucking someone to death.” And then they broke into “One More Night,” calm and rhythmic, needing little more than its lyrical content to be one of their very best songs.
Stars’ last song before returning for their long-awaited encore was “In Our Bedroom After the War,” a song whose first verse admits that there might not be “that sleepy person sleeping next to you…but at least the war is over.” You don’t need to be sleeping with anyone if you’ve got Stars to sing for you and a war that’s gone. But Stars love you and have faith in you, and they’re pretty sure that you could get someone to sleep with you if you so chose. Toward the end of their set, Torq yelled joyously into the audience that he knew our lives were “gorgeous and fucked up and pornographic,” and this was the highest compliment he could give us, a placement in the situation he best knows how to write songs about. And we felt honored.