A collection of musically themed musings by Brendan Bush in Burlington, VT

Wrapup: Stars @ Metropolis 12/4/2010

Filed Under: Concert Reviews, Live Shows
Written by Brendan
Monday December 6, 2010

The last time I saw Stars was this past summer at Osheaga, and I was so disappointed by their performance that I was all but ready to give up on seeing them live again (this was my 4th Stars show). Thankfully, I was encouraged to give them another shot, as they definitely earned redemption on Saturday night.

The show was opened by Montreal’s Young Galaxy who put on a good performance, albeit a little bland. I think their energy would have translated better at a smaller venue. Interestingly, vocalist Catherine McCandless was the first of two pregnant women to perform (Amy Millan, Stars’ lead singer, is also pregnant). Not everyday you see that…

I got there early and scored an amazing spot – directly behind the sound board, elevated at least a foot above the rest of the crowd. Pretty much dead center, and with a clear view of the entire stage. It’s become a little cumbersome to carry an SLR camera to every show I go to, so I just took my Lumix LX-3, with which I managed some decent shots:

Stars played a good portion of both their most recent release The Five Ghosts and their 2005 album Set Yourself On Fire, as well as a few songs from 2007′s In Our Bedroom After the War and 2003′s Heart. They even delved a little deeper, including the title track from their 2001 EP The Comeback and one from the 2008 EP Sad Robots. Needless to say, it was a wide-ranging setlist, impressive in the range and particularly in the performance.

Vocalist Torquil Campbell was back to his usual self, full of emotional energy, and theatrical without being cheesy. Towards the end of the show, he got so carried away with a bear hug that he tackled Young Galaxy’s Stephen Ramsay (out to perform a song with Stars) into the wings off stage. He seemed to be riding a pretty fierce high for most of the show, returned and enhanced by the enthusiastic crowd.

I had forgotten how Amy Millan’s voice is able to sound sweet and whispered at one moment and crisp and penetrating the next. I wish she were the lead singer of more rock bands so I could hear her sing more often. While she has released a couple of much softer solo albums, it’s the range she displays in Stars that really shines. Even through the densest bass, most piercing keys and distorted guitar, Amy’s voice is always there. Kudos to the sound guys on that too…

I have to assume that along with being their last show of 2010, this also might be their last show for a bit longer than that. As I mentioned, Amy Millan is pregnant, due in the spring of next year, and bassist Evan Cranley is the father. I’m sure it’s been done, but I don’t see them touring again for quite a while, at least with the same lineup. So I’m thankful I can say I was there for this one, and hope it wasn’t the last.

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Note: All photos are copyright © 2010 Brendan Bush unless otherwise noted. You are free to copy, distribute and transmit them as long as proper attribution is given, in accordance with this Creative Commons policy.

Strikes and gutters

Filed Under: Live Shows, Random Thought
Written by Brendan
Wednesday April 14, 2010

I often end up in discussion leading up to and after shows at the Higher Ground about the relative values of the music scene in Burlington.

On one hand, I get to stand up front with room to move comfortably at 90% of the shows I go to there. I’ve been to many shows in the Showcase Lounge (the smaller of the two stages) where a band that easily sells out the Black Cat or even 9:30 Club in DC doesn’t even have 50 people in the audience (see Band of Horses, Ra Ra Riot, Rural Alberta Advantage, Princeton…). So there’s a real intimacy that is more difficult to obtain in a bigger city.

I also rarely have to worry about obsessively following the web sites, twitter feeds and facebook profiles of bands I like and venues that are close by. Not that I don’t still do that, but I don’t have to, because even if I stop paying attention for a week or two, there’s still very little chance anything comes up that sells out that quickly.

On the other hand, bands like Band of Horses, Ra Ra Riot and Rural Alberta Advantage have to play to half- to quarter-sold shows. There always seems to be enough really engaged people in the audience at those shows, so the numbers don’t feel as meager as they could; but there’s also definitely something missing. Something like seeing Metric at Metropolis in Montreal amidst a crowd of Canadians who’d driven 3 times as long as we had to get there.

And of course the money for these bands has to be an issue, which makes me all the more gracious to the bands who do choose to make Burlington a stop on their tours (and the labels who support them).

To summarize: I’m glad that I got to stand comfortably, 15 feet from the stage at the Hold Steady show last week. And I’m glad that I didn’t miss them like some poor souls in the many cities they sold out before and continue to since. And I hope they and bands like them continue to come back.

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Note: All photos are copyright © 2010 Brendan Bush unless otherwise noted. You are free to copy, distribute and transmit them as long as proper attribution is given, in accordance with this Creative Commons policy.