Performing Love, Thorny and Fragrant: Stars at the Groove FM Jazz Festival

I got to see Montreal-based band Stars play live a couple of years ago when they came to the Garrick Centre in Winnipeg to promote their 2004 album Set Yourself on Fire. And it was definitely a fantastic show. Then within the last eight months I’ve managed to miss them twice – the first time, they played Waterloo just before I moved there, and the second time, they played Winnipeg in winter while I was still in Waterloo. That’s why I was so thankful that they decided to play the Groove FM Jazz Festival as part of the “indie package.” I would finally get to see them play material from their latest album In Our Bedroom After the War. Of course being part of the Jazz Festival, they ended up slotted in Pantages Playhouse, an old vaudeville theatre building with proper seating and a balcony – not exactly my favourite kind of setting for a live show. As I sat there in my eighth row seat, watching the opening act, Winnipeg band The Details, I started feeling a bit grumpy and put off by the situation. The audience appeared to have drawn all sorts of demographics, and especially ones I never thought I’d see at a Stars show. Frankly, I think some of these people were wondering what they were doing there themselves (if they were expecting jazz, they were in for a surprise). And I was wondering how I was going to bear sitting through the show trapped in the eighth row.

After the intermission between The Details and Stars, the pulsing introduction from the opening track from In Our Bedroom After the War, The Beginning After the End, started up and the real Stars fans began to scream in recognition. The band sprung out onto the stage, and instantly, Torquil Campbell told everyone to come down to the stage – he later said that we should have to stand if they fucking had to. I joined the exodus of indie-pop fans as we stumbled and leaped over the bewildered older people who were completely content to remain seated. I was so grateful I could have hugged Torq. The moment that all of us crowded against the stage the gig started in earnest. And Stars are always completely earnest.

The stage was decorated with white and red roses, which were flung from the stage at various intervals, some of them disintegrating into showers of petals. It was a beautiful idea and completely fit the honesty and tenderness that Stars embody. The first track they played was the second one off the latest album, The Night Starts Here, and indeed it did. Torquil and his lovely singing partner Amy Millan demonstrated the perfection of their united vocals – I think their voices complement each others so perfectly it’s emotionally alchemical. Amy lightly chanted the refrain of “The night starts here, Forget your name, forget your fear” and I did exactly as I was told, dancing and letting myself soak in the bittersweetness. Then Torquil asked the audience where our Barack Obama was and when would we finally elect a First Nations person for Prime Minister in this country before launching into Soft Revolution. This was only the beginning of the banter that he and Amy would engage in throughout the night.

The sheer intensity of the music was incandescent – Torquil has been accused in the past of being “hammy” (cough, Pitchfork), but I only see his theatrics as passion of the order of Morrissey. Being a consummate performer who believes and feels every word he/she has written is the opposite of “hammy” fakery, and Torquil is the consummate performer. There were so many highlights, and many of them were due to Torquil’s energy as he played off Amy, who serenely played brilliant guitar, electric and acoustic. They ended up making two dedications to the couple whom they stay with whenever they’re in Winnipeg – the first was The Big Fight, dedicated by Torquil, and the second was My Favourite Book, which was dedicated by Amy, ostensibly to rectify the dark implications of the first dedication and to elicit further banter between them (including a comment by Torquil that sex was always painful and you end up regretting it – a theme that works its way into several of their songs). The former was seductively sinister as Amy and Torquil exchanged lines in a dark dialogue of a fractured relationship, and the latter definitely balanced it out with its retro elegance and twee melody. Ultimately the spectrum that these two songs span, the pain and the elation of relationships, is completely representative of their body of work, and it’s what makes me adore them so much.
The Ghost of Genova Heights, a track I wouldn’t have immediately pegged as one of my favourite Stars track has proven to be exactly that, especially after seeing it live. It shifts between two different styles and moods, between a dreamy New Romantic feel and a soulful funk. Torquil was hugely impressive with his falsetto, breathing and yelping like Prince, making this song’s chorus one of the most memorable ones of the night. Humour was also constantly present – before shooting headlong into the raucous Take Me To the Riot, Amy attempted to talk to the crowd about the Manitoba Moose hockey team and the AHL, only to have Torquil jump in and say that this audience was probably the only 800 people in Winnipeg who had no interest in hockey, prompting a hearty cheer. He also prefaced One More Night with a dedication to the newly re-formed New Kids on the Block, complete with an accapella satire of boyband trite emotion and dance moves, singing the chorus of Phil Collins’ saccharine One More Night with a modified ending complete with profanity. The set-up served to demonstrate the contrast between Collins and the honesty of Stars’ One More Night in which lovers hurt each other as much as they long for each other. There was also a sweet little moment in which it appeared Torquil lost himself in the middle of the song, standing there holding his trumpet and muttering “shucks” before eventually returning to the microphone and continuing on to the second verse.
I also have to mention one of the most exciting segues in which they moved from What I’m Trying to Say into Elevator Love Letter, two of my favourite Stars songs flowing together in an ecstatic tribute to complex emotion. To round out the entire set, they also played Your Ex-Lover is Dead, Set Yourself on Fire, Ageless Beauty, Midnight Coward, and Window Bird. The vulnerability and uncertainty that accompanies love and intimacy in reality pervades Stars’ music and transforms these seemingly unromantic characteristics into a new form of romance. My only petty wish is that they would have done Barricade, a fantastically perverse ballad from In the Bedroom After the War, in which two football hooligans fall in love, turned on by violence.
One of the most intense moments was the final song of the set proper, the title track of their latest album, an epic ballad to the necessity of rebirth and reinstatement of humanity after the horrors and dehumanization of war. A person in the audience asked Torquil if he could dedicate it to his friend in Afghanistan, and Torquil replied with “Of course, my friend,” his voice choked with sincerity that nearly made me tear up. The song built and built to an incredible climax of catharsis as Torquil ended up throwing his head back and howling “war” over and over. I felt my eyes close along with him as I sang with him, my vocal cords straining.
After the set proper ended, Torquil was the first to bound back onto the stage to tell us that he would have to perform accapella and that he knew some great Captain and Tenille songs; when the rest of the band reappeared, he feigned disappointment and told us that we could catch his solo material at a softball game in Ontario, trailing off with “the bus there is cheap.” Stars then proceeded to perform a stellar four-song encore – it was like they read my mind. They needn’t have told me to dance. They began with their fabulous laidback cover of This Charming Man – once again, anyone who could accuse Torquil of heavy-handed overdramatic performance couldn’t have ever heard the subtlety of this understated cover version where Amy and Torquil’s voices approach whispers as Marr’s famous riff gently pulses in the background. They then slipped seamlessly into Reunion, one of my favourite songs off Set Yourself on Fire, a joyful trip of nostalgia and reclaiming missed opportunities. The show then ended with the gentle loveliness of Calendar Girl and then The Woods, the only other song that night from their second album, Heart.

Stars restored my faith in live gigs after the last lacklustre one I attended. I wish I could have gathered up the gig in my arms like a bouquet of roses, thorny and fragrant, and buried my face in it forever. Instead, it will have to remain pressed and dried in the folds of my memory.

The Ghost of Genova Heights – Stars

Barricade – Stars

Elevator Love Letter – Stars


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Gigs Attended

Arcade Fire w/ Bell Orchestre + Wolf Parade (2005)

Arctic Monkeys w/ Reverend and the Makers (2007)

Austra w/ Young Galaxy + Tasseomancy (2011)

Big Audio Dynamite (2011)

Billy Bragg w/ Ron Hawkins (2009)

Billy Idol w/ Bif Naked (2005)

Bloc Party w/ Hot Hot Heat (2009)

Buzzcocks w/ The Dollyrots (2010)

Damo Suzuki (2012)

David Bowie w/ The Polyphonic Spree (2004)

Diamond Rings w/ PS I Love You + The Cannon Bros. (2011)

Diamond Rings w/ Gold & Youth (2012)

Dragonette w/ Ruby Jean & the Thoughtful Bees (2009)

Frank Turner w/ The Cavaliers (2010)

Frank Turner w/ Into It Over It + Andrew Jackson Jihad (2011)

Franz Ferdinand w/ Think About Life (2009)

Gang of Four w/ Hollerado (2011)

Good Shoes w/ The Moths + The Envelopes (2007)

Hot Hot Heat w/ The Futureheads + Louis XIV (2005)

IAMX w/ closethuman (2007)

IAMX w/ Coma Soft + The Hourly Radio (2007)

Interpol (2007)

Janelle Monae w/ Roman GianArthur (2012)

Joel Plaskett Emergency w/ Frank Turner (2012)

Jonathan Richman (2011)

Keane w/ Lights (2009)

Lou Reed w/ Buke and Gass (2011)

Manic Street Preachers w/ Fear of Music (2007)

Manic Street Preachers w/ Bear Hands (2009)

Manic Street Preachers at Wanaja Festival (2011)

Mother Mother w/ Old Folks Home (2009)

Mother Mother w/ Whale Tooth (2011)

Mother Mother w/ Hannah Georgas (2012)

MSTRKRFT w/ Felix Cartal (2008)

Muse (2004)

Nine Inch Nails w/ Death From Above 1979 + Queens of the Stone Age (2005)

of Montreal w/ Janelle Monae (2010)

Owen Pallett w/ Little Scream (2010)

Patrick Wolf w/ Bishi (2007)

Prince (2011)

Pulp w/ Grace Jones, TV on the Radio, The Hives, The Horrors, Metronomy, Devotcka, Vintage Trouble (2011)

Rufus Wainwright w/ Teddy Thompson (2010)

Snow Patrol w/ Embrace (2005)

Snow Patrol w/ OK Go + Silversun Pickups (2007)

Sons and Daughters w/ Bodies of Water (2008)

Stars w/ Thurston Revival (2006)

Stars w/ The Details (2008)

Stars (2010)

Steven Severin (2010)

Stroszek (2007)

The Antlers w/ Haunter (2012)

The Flaming Lips w/ Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti (2010)

The Jesus and Mary Chain w/ Nightbox (2012)

The Killers w/ Ambulance Ltd (2004)

The New Pornographers w/ Novillero (2008)

The New Pornographers w/ The Mountain Goats (2010)

The Ordinary Boys w/ Young Soul Rebels (2006)

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart w/ Suun (2011)

The Rakes w/ The Young Knives (2006)

The Raveonettes w/ Black Acid (2008)

The Stills w/ Gentleman Reg (2009)

The Subways w/ The Mad Young Darlings (2006)

Tokyo Police Club w/ Smoosh + Attack in Black (2008)

TV on the Radio w/ The Dirty Projectors (2009)

Yann Tiersen w/ Breathe Owl Breathe (2011)

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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave


So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun


Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head


Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away


Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners


Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away


You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender


I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding


You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black


Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side


Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb


Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape


Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah


And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning


My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it


Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love


We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's


Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south


Running on


As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different


LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell


Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are


You must let her go

She's not crying



Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times



Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone


Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't


So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need


The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest


Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know


No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more


All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids


Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome


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