June 8, 2010
Stars/Dead Child Star - Music Hall of Williamsburg - June 4, 2010
A woman was walking around taping Stars posters for The Five Ghosts CD on the brick walls of the balcony and the lower level. She taped the same poster about every 6 feet or so. I think the intention was for the audience members to take them off the walls at the end of the show. Fans complied as intended once the show ended.
On stage were four flood lights pointing out into the audience which made it extremely difficult to see what was on stage. Not sure of what would happen later, I thought to myself “oh that's great – are we going watch a whole show like this?” (Yes, sometimes I can be a pessimistic downer). I got really worried when Torquil Campbell, AKA Dead Child Star, came out at 8:30 to play some songs for us on his Mac laptop. I was only able to see a man who looked like Campbell working on a Mac laptop because a guy who kept running on stage to talk to Campbell blocked the light.
It occurred to me after the show, that Campbell probably wanted people to listen to the music he was playing rather than watch him as if he were giving a performance. (See – all that worry for nothing!)
Without introducing himself Torquil Campbell said he was going to play some music for us and that Stars would be out a little later. Campbell played an eclectic mixture of music that ran the gamut of musical styles. I liked the idea. It felt like we were invited into a world of his personal taste in music. (It was a lot more interesting than knowing what's on President Obama's Ipod)
The opening song was Peggy Lee's “Is That All There Is” followed by a song by Duke Ellington. He followed Ellington up by “Lazy Afternoon,” I wish I knew who was singing because it was a very cool arrangement. However, there is no way of knowing. It may not be a well know standard but dozens of vocalist have recorded it. Then he played “I'm Only Human,” by Human League. At first, he played the song at a very fast speed. Before Campbell slowed it down he told that audience that it wasn't a mistake. He liked the song at that speed because it had a certain "Je ne sais quoi."
Campbell seemed to be feeling the 80's because the next song he played is my favorite from that period, “Rip It Up” by Orange Juice. He also played “If You Think You're Lonely Now” by Bobby Womack. He eventually made his way to the 90's by playing PM Dawn's “"Set Adrift on Memory Bliss." He then played something hip-hop with auto-tune on the vocal. It might have been Kanye West but don't quote me. Before ending his set Campbell played “Private Eyes,” but then stopped the song and asked for a do-over. He said not to dis Hall and Oats but the song sounded like a Doobie Brothers song. He would be happy to discuss it with anyone who disagreed after the show. He then played “One on One,” again by Hall and Oats.
When Torquil Campbell finished playing songs, a song that sounded like Art of Noise's “ Moments In Love,” was played over the sound system. (Sounded like - means I am not sure – I haven't heard the song in a long time.) I was very happy when at 9:38 the stage hands took away the flood lights. (I wrote in my notes “Thank you God”). Now I could see there was two of the same image, of a ghost in a wedding dress, on large canvas’ hanging against the back curtain. One image was on the left and one on the right side. A red spot shed light over the entire stage as the audience waited for Stars. Here is the image below.
At 10 o'clock the band walked out. Amy Millan, dressed up for the occasion and wore black sequined dress and a pair black platform heels. The first thing she said was "We're going to play you The Five Ghosts from start to finish." I thought, "wow - that takes a lot of hootspa!" But the band had more than nerve, they had faith in their fans that was well grounded. For 11 songs the audience attentively listened to music they didn't know. Though I am a new listener to the band, I think the experiment worked well. The performances of the new material were tight. And after hearing the second part of the set, it became apparent the new CD was moving the band into a slightly different direction.
The opening song was very sweet. The verse was song with vocalist, Torquil Campbell melodically asking questions answered by Amy Millan as Chris Seligman played a childlike piano part underneath their vocals. By the second chorus both sang in harmony as they did often throughout the show. Millan and Campbell's voice compliment each other; their harmonies never went astray and were often the best part of most songs.
Each and every song for the first part of the set was introduced. I guess if anyone heard something they liked as their favorite of the evening, they will know which song it was when the CD drops on June 22nd.
On “ Wasted Daylight” bass player, Evan Cranley moved between keyboard and his bass. He also sang harmony with Millan for what I recall as the only time during the show. For “I Died So I Could Haunt You” Millan strapped on a guitar and Campbell began the vocal. The song went back in forth between a 12/8 sing-song feel and an even 4/4 rock feel.
Perhaps it was how the next song's keyboards moved in unison with the bass or Pat McGee drums (Dude wore white framed sunglasses for the entire show) but there was something about the song that reminded me of New Order. Most of the songs Stars performed had a really strong pop sensibility. In other words, the songs sounded like something I've heard before, but they took on a different flavor. “We Don't Want Your Body” is a perfect example. It took me awhile to pin down, but the songs melody reminded me of “Walk Like an Egyptian” by the Bangles.
Stars is considered an Indie band because of their lyrical content, their use of keyboards and maybe because they came out of Williamsburg. But what I enjoyed about Stars is that like many Indie bands their music is traditional but just has a different approach. For the song “Changes,” Stars uses a progression that's been around since the 50's. I immediately recognized it because it was a recent assignment in my songwriting group. It’s a progression that's been used so often it can fill a book. (For musicians it's I, VI, IV, V). Speaking of changes, before going into the next song Campbell made note of how much Williamsburg had changed from when he started out in 1997. I think he said something like he had walked around on Friday afternoon and felt like he was on acid.
Toward the end of the first set Amy Millan really got into the music, even dropping to her knees at one point during the song “How Much More.” The last song “Winter Bones.” seemed like the perfect song to end the new Stars CD; it had that same sweet quality as the first song. Amy Millan opened up the song and at that point it occurred to me that her voice was similar to Harriet Wheeler of The Sundays. The Sundays were a band from the early 90's whos claim to fame was “Here's Where The Story Ends” from the 90's.
After the last song Torquil Campbell said he thought the experiment had worked and that the band would be back in 10 minutes with songs chosen as most requested by the online audience . After Stars walked off stage, roadies put a few things back in place and then placed white roses all over the stage, which included attaching the roses to the mic stands.
When Stars returned they seemed a little more jovial, as if the work of introducing their newest material was over. I think what made it even more festive was that they were throwing white roses into the audience throughout the second set. Torquil Campbell's favorite thing to do was rip the rose from the stem and throw all the pedals up in the air.
I love that Stars started their set with “Your Ex-Lover is Dead.” The song's intro begins with a voice over stating “When there is nothing left to burn, you must set yourself on fire!” The voice over was done my Campbell's father Douglas. The song was the first time during the show that Campbell played melodica. Chris Seligman played synth pad sounds to fill in the part that on the recording was that was played on french horn, trombone and violin. As soon as Campbell started singing the audience joined in and kept on singing for the entire song.
One of the highlights of the evening was “Take Me to the Riot.” The audience roared when the song started and of course they continued to sing along but this time they bopped in place as well. The song is from 2007's In Our Bedroom After the War CD, but feels like it could have been written in 1987.
Stars continued their set with Millan jumping around during “Set Yourself on Fire.” Immediately after the song, Campbell said that out of all the most requested songs, the song Stars was about to do was the one most requested only by New York. The song was “A Thread Cut With A Carving Knife,” I really like the lyric, I think it's about a guy who is so sexually and romantically obsessed with one person that he wants to commit suicide. Been there, done that and I guess I'm not the only person in New York who relates.
Stars moved on through the song “Look Up” on to “Elevator Love Letter” which made the audience go completely wild from the opening guitar strums. Campbell also played melodica on the song which made the audience cheer the moment he put it to his lips. Now that I think about it, I found it strange that there was a trumpet on the lip of the drum kit platform but Campbell never played it. I do recall him walking off stage with it at the end of the set but he never played it.
Before doing the last song of the set Campbell talked about how grateful he was to the band's fans and to be back in Brooklyn. Then he jokingly stated the one thing that everyone who lives in or travels to Williamsburg knows “The L Train Is Bitch.” He also coyly played with the audience telling them it was the last song with that look that said not really. That supposed last song was also one of my favorites of the evening. I really like the hook that ends with the lyric “I'm still in love with you.” (2x),
Of course the band came back to do two songs for an encore. When Campbell introduced the last song he said “This song is about fucking someone to death.” As the band jammed out on the ending of “One More Night,” Campbell said goodnight and was the first to leave the stage. Once the song ended, the rest of the band immediately followed.
I had tickets to 2 different shows on Friday night – I'm glad I chose Stars. It was a really wonderful night filled with a lot of great music. I read somewhere all the members of Stars are in Broken Social Scene. Even if Broken Social Scene has a completely different sound, After Friday night, I think I'll add them to my “must see” list.
Amy Millan – vocals and guitar
Torquil Campbell –Vocals, Melodica, Trumpet
Evan Cranley – Bass
Pat McGee – Drums
Chris Seligman - Keys
Allan Snoody - additional guitarist on tour with the Stars
Part One - Songs from the entire upcoming CD "The Five Ghosts"
3.I Died So I Could Haunt You
5.We Don't Want Your Body
6.He Dream He's Awake
9.The Last Song Ever Written
10.How Much More
10 Minute Intermission
Part Two - Songs Voted for by Fans
1.Your Ex-lover is Dead
2.Take Me To the Riot
3.Set Yourself On Fire
4.A Thread Cut With A Carving Knife
6.Elevator Love Letter
9.On Peak Hill
10.One More Night