Exclaim Tour: STARS + The Organ + guests @ Cabaret

By Alex - Losing My Edge - 04/16/2005

After a triumphant and well-received return to their fair city Montreal, the Exclaim Tour headliners Stars were faced with the task of going back out and re-create the magic that had the home crowd in rapture the night before. The band has managed to build a healthy reputation of being a great live band, a reputation no doubt enhanced since touring cross-country with the comatose-looking girls in The Organ. With word of their reportedly spectacular performance the night before fresh in our minds, it remained to be seen if they saved enough gas in the tank for what was sure to be another emotional night for the hometown boys and gal.

To be fair, The Organ's charmless demeanor has limited bearing on their ability to please Smiths fans with their repertoire of competent songs. Of course, personal enjoyment is conditional on whether one particularly enjoys Morrissey's vocal stylings. Granted, comparisons to existing artists can be tired and lazy, but when the band is being equally lazy in keeping its obvious influences in check, one doesn't really have choice. That being said, The Organ gave it a good run for four or five songs before their lack of presence -- though points to singer Katie Sketch for the occasional twirls -- caught up to them. Charisma aside, the songs did manage to carve an identity for the band in spite of the weight of their musical heroes. For that, the crowd gave them an enthusiastic ovation that prompted a rare encore for an opening band.

What is instantly apparent from Stars' live act is the celebratory atmosphere that they manage to create onstage, not unlike their Arts & Crafts labelmates Broken Social Scene. As soon as Mr.Douglas Campbell bellowed the Set Yourself On Fire introduction ("when there's nothing left to burn, you must set yourself on fire") in his thunderous God-like voice, his son Torquil and his bandmates tore into the title track, looking like they fully intended in making this night as special. The music itself was undeniably poptastic and it was hard to fend off the contagious joy. However, the wild card was Torquil Campbell. At times, his gushing banter was refreshingly sincere and at others, it was overly theatrical to the point of patronizing. Surely, one can forgive such affected outbursts given the context, but the problem was that it spilled into the songs themselves. The restraint shown on the album contributed to the creation of such a lush and magical record, with all the elements complementing each other. Here, he was threatening to overpower his own band with his exaggerated manners. Thankfully, Amy Millan was the sweet voice of reason -- and reason sounded a bit like Emma Pollack from the Delgados -- and held the monopoly on all of the show's highlights. Whether it was the set-closing "Calendar Girl" or the fantastic single "Ageless Beauty" (joined by Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew, who also appeared for "Sleep Tonight"), Millan transmitted her band's emotions in an intense but subtle manner that shares them with you, instead of ordering you to feel them.

It is hard to rail against someone for being so passionate and obviously, it worked for major portions of the audience. However, the overbearingness of Campbell's act rendered his poignant lyrics empty, similar to the way a scenery-chewing acting performance can strangle the finest script. In the end, this seemed like a bit of nit-picking, for the crowd responded greatly to Stars' performance. It wouldn't be a stretch to qualify it as magical given the ovation, but somehow, one gets the feeling that it was planned out to be that way all along.

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