By Mike Bresciani - The Lonesome Strangers - 03/22/2006

On this particular Wednesday night in Montreal where concertgoers had many choices of shows at their disposal, I was lucky enough to be back at Cabaret to catch one of those most plugged Montreal shows. New York’s Stellastarr* was making another trip to our neck of the woods, and along for the ride was yet another newly-hyped U.K band, The Editors, who’d been fresh off their stint at the yearly SXSW showcase. Speaking of hyped bands, just down the street the Arctic Monkeys, also known as The World’s Most Overhyped Band, were playing to a sold-out crowd at Spectrum. Tonight’s show might not have commanded as much attention as the Monkeys', but the double-header was nonetheless a treat.

It was only a week before this show that I heard snippets of the Editors' debut album The Back Room. Impressive to say the least, although after listening to their record, the live show was much more than I had anticipated. For one thing, I hadn’t listened to the entire album, but from a few songs, I was slightly worried that this band would fall into that “disco drum” category one would find so many hipster bands. To clarify, disco drums insinuate a catchy, hypnotic and above all, repetitive drum beat which paralyzes the listener into submission. These drum beats were fresh at one point, but have now been overdone by virtually every relatively "cool" band on earth. One way you can spot these songs is to look at the titles. For example:

    Wolf Parade’s “Disco sheets”
    Controller.Controller’s “Disco Blackout”
    Metric’s “Dead Disco”
    Les Savy Fav's "Disco Drive"
    and most notably the best hipster disco song, Pulp’s “Disco 2000”

The Editors thankfully don’t have any songs on their CD with the word “disco” in it, which is a good sign. Their show was for the most part exceptional, combining beautiful flickering guitar melodies with a bit of that new-wave sound the kids seem to love nowadays. Their sound touches upon elements from the Bunnymen and Mission Of Burma, whereas the vocals have that dark Ian Curtis feel to them, not in a Interpol-style ripoff way, yet the originality factor isn’t very high either. What’s surprising about all of this is that I’m only realizing this while I listen to their CD. The live performance staged tonight was purely remarkable; I really was put in a trance by all the shimmering reverb guitar and the wonderful showmanship of lead man Tom Smith. The truth is, that their album just doesn’t do them justice. During their performance, not once had I felt that overpowering Ian Curtis resemblance, but on the album it’s everywhere and overdone. Nonetheless, what remained constant with both the album and their live shwo was the song “Fall”, which is one of the slower, more atmospheric pieces in their catalogue of songs. Other standout songs were “Open Your Arms” and the album’s closing track “Distance”.

With Stellastarr* up next, I had the feeling that their performance would be overshadowed by the spectacular opening band. In many ways, it was, as they played a fairly predictable set of songs from their two studio albums (S/T and Harmonies For The Haunted). What made the performance memorable were the onstage antics of lead man Shawn Christensen, who delighted many with his bizarre stage presence. He spent much of the show frantically moving around the stage, all the while clutching at his body as if to tell us that he’d just finished popping his last bit of ecstacy. Entertainment was the main word here, and Stellastarr’s live show did in effect prove to be quite satisfying. Songs like “My Coco” and opener “In These Walls” stood out, while I was personally satisfied that they played “The Pulp Song” in the encore (nothing to do with Jarvis Cocker).

Musically, however, one would think that Stellastarr* has a long way to go with their sound. Both bands are aesthetically different, but they possess a lot of the same characteristics that these new Joy Division-esque bands have. Interpol sort of led the way -- although their vocals do have a strange Gord Downey feel to them -- but many of these other new bands have taken that dark, brooding voice with those predictable high-frequency bass riffs, and made it into something utterly redundant. I guarantee that the first time many of you heard She wants Revenge, you probably thought it was some new Interpol song, didn’t you ? If you say otherwise, I am calling you a bold-faced liar.

Still, with only three records under their collective belt, bands like Stellastarr* and the Editors have plenty of time to grow past those repetitive disco drum/high-hat combinations and their Ian Curtis vocal qualities. The Editors show a lot of promise, and much of their hype is well-deserved. I just hope that when the time comes to record a follow-up to their debut, they might take a bit more of a chance with a sound that hasn’t already been emulated hundreds of times before. On the other hand, Stellastarr* seem to be limiting themselves sound-wise, as they released a good sophomore disc which didn’t have much distinction from the first. Their sound is good, but there really isn’t much room to grow from there.

If I had to pick a winner for tonight’s showcase, I’d have to stick with the Editors. As for those schmucks who saw the Arctic Monkeys down the street, they didn't get the sweet 2-for-1 deal we got here at Cabaret tonight. You can take that hype and shove it.

[Tune in to The Lonesome Strangers every Wednesday from 4:00pm to 6:00pm.]