Published Oct 24, 2015This December, Stars will mark the tenth anniversary of Set Yourself on Fire — probably their most beloved record and still their best — with a full-album show in Toronto. (The album's actually turning 11 this year, but hey, rock'n'roll is about the spirit of the occasion, not the precision.) A decade on, and nearly 15 years since their debut, you could easily forgive a band as sentimental as Stars for dwelling in the past a bit, embracing the heartfelt nostalgia many fans feel for their mid-late 2000s work.
That's what I expected from their Halifax Pop Explosion set Friday night (October 23), and I couldn't have been more wrong. The band started with "Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It" from 2012's The North, its slow-building intro allowing anticipation to build and for Amy Millan to make a dramatic entrance when her vocal part finally arrived. That was followed by "Are You OK?" from last year's No One Is Lost, an upbeat, forward-driving song that sounds like Broken Social Scene covering New Order. In total, nine of the set's 15 songs were from this decade.
That's not to say that Stars neglected old material, though. Despite Torquil Campbell's cheeky intro suggesting it was a new song, inspired by the drizzly Halifax weather and written earlier that day, the classic "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead" was as swoon-worthy as ever. The one-two punch of "Bitches in Tokyo" and "Take Me to the Riot," flowing seamlessly from one to the other, was a highlight. Campbell dedicated "Soft Revolution" to "Prime Minister Justin Trudeau" ("I can't believe I'm actually saying this," he remarked), and the bass-only beginning to "Elevator Love Song" allowed the song (still my favourite of the band's after all these years) to escalate with sharp, dramatic patience.
I confess that neither of Stars' two most recent albums have held my attention quite the way their earlier material did, but the pacing and execution of Friday's show (even given the challenging, cavernous sound environment of the large Forum Multipurpose Room) made me wonder if the issue has less to them and more to do with me: older, a tad more jaded, maybe less open to their hyperbolic romanticism. Or perhaps it's just that when carefully curated and placed amongst the band's other songs, it's easier to see how No One is Lost songs like "This is the Last Time" or the EDM-esque title track find their logical place amongst the band's work. It made for a set that was vibrant in energy, and fevered in its enthusiastic statement of currency.