“We’re really happy you did whatever mysterious thing you had to do to be here this evening,” said singer Torquil Campbell, addressing the crowd for the first of many times at last night’s Stars show.
The event was unconventional in a few respects–the venue was smaller than the spaces the band typically plays, the set time was early, and the free event was open to ticket-winners only–but Stars were clearly excited to play in the cozy Triple Rock Social Club, and they performed with the energy of a show five times that size.
The band began with a trio of songs off their new album, The North, which was just released this fall, but then quickly started mixing in songs from throughout their lengthy career. All told, they played seven of the 12 tracks from The North, and fans seemed to respond quickly to more recognizable singles like opener “The Theory of Relativity” and “A Song is a Weapon,” both of which expanded to new depths live. But the real momentum began building mid-set when they pulled out favorites like “We Don’t Want Your Body” and “Dead Hearts,” with Campbell and fellow lead singer Amy Millan lacing together their vocal melodies and interacting more with each other and the crowd.
At times, Campbell would lean behind Millan and sing into her back, as if pretending that his voice was coming up from her subconscious; at others, Millan would get so amped up that she would start bouncing around the stage like she was at a punk show, grinning from ear to ear.
“It’s so nice to play such an intimate venue,” said Millan, noting that she saw a lot of familiar faces and even leaning down to attendee Jeff Kamin to ask, “Don’t you do that thing with books and bars?”
Torquil, meanwhile, was sure to note a few local ties while introducing the title track of their new album, The North. “My dad ran the Guthrie Theater for a little while back in the ‘60s,” he said, “and my mom and dad fell in love in Minneapolis. All of their stories always came from this cold town in Minnesota.”
“The North” was one of the more chilling songs of the set (appropriate, given its lyrics “It’s so cold in this country, October through May”), as was the hypnotic “Midnight Coward,” which played out like an escalating dialogue between the two distinctive yet complementary singers.
That back and forth exchange was highlighted even more dramatically in the lead-up to “Do You Want to Die Together?” as Campbell and Millan started singing an a capella version of Buddy Holly’s “All I Have to Do is Dream,” replacing the word “dream” with “die,” and Campbell introduced it by saying, “This is a song about death.”
Shaking her head, Millan quickly spoke up. “No it’s not, it’s a love song.”
“Just as I said,” Campbell continued. “This is a song about death.”
That contrast between deadly serious lyrics and effervescent harmonies and delivery came to define the evening, as the band grinned and bantered between songs and then proceeded to perform more and more heartbreaking material. For the encore, Campbell produced a melodica and played it forcefully during both “Elevator Love Letter” and the wrenching “Your Ex-Lover is Dead,” which he dedicated to “the person you hate most in the world.”
When they reached the end of their setlist Campbell seemed hesitant to leave the stage, pausing in front of the microphone as the band gathered up their gear.
“I have to play this, since we are in Minnesota,” he said, setting up one more song. “This is for anybody that lives in Marshall, Minn.”
And with that they closed with the elegant, haunting “The 400,” a track off their latest album that I never would have connected to the bar in Minneapolis or anything having to do with the Twin Cities. But as Campbell sang the lyrics Millan smiled, seeming to recognize that the words were suddenly taking on a new meaning.
This town surrounds another town we live beside
The highway exists change at random and the road divides
If you lose your way just ask a stranger, they’ll let you know
There’s no way back to that house you knew so long ago
It has to go right this time
It has to go right this time
Stars will return for a public show at First Avenue in the last week of March 2013. An official announcement and ticket info are expected soon.
The Theory of Relativity
A Song is a Weapon
We Don’t Want Your Body
Do You Want to Die Together?
Take Me to the Riot
Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It
Elevator Love Letter
Your Ex-Lover is Dead