Stars @ The Zoo, Brisbane 11.02.13
By Ben Green
I know one guy who’s seen Stars at the Zoo three times in the last five years. Then there’s the Melbourne couple I know who followed what seemed to be the whole Arts & Crafts label roster, including Stars, Broken Social Scene and its various associated solo acts – a kind of indie Wu Tang Clan with Feist as Method Man – to half of their Australian shows about five years ago. What is it about Quebecois bands and devoted fans?
Somehow, as far as I know, I’d never heard a single note of Stars, at least not until last week.
The day the band were due to play in Brisbane, a call went out on Facebook: send your name to something called “The PR Company”, and it’ll be placed on the door list with a +1. Why this generosity? Perhaps the band’s prolific touring had drained the shallower wells of devotion in punters less Starry-eyed than those I’ve mentioned above. It can’t have helped that there was a veritable indie rock hall of fame touring Australia in league with the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, or that – worst of all – it was a Monday. Brisbane always gets them on Mondays. (Hark, the sound of every reader of Collapse Board who doesn’t live in an East Coast capital mailing a small bag of cement to Brisbane.)
Whatever the reason for the opportunity, swayed by all those Stars evangelists, I seized it.
I’ve been sold on bands by their live shows plenty of times. Les Savy Fav come to mind, as I’m sure they do for many, and local bands like Blank Realm and Velociraptor regularly fill their sets with songs that come to feel like Smash Hit Number Ones long before they are released in a form you can take home. It took me months to realise my favourite Kitchen’s Floor song, the song which sold me on the Brisbane band, was in fact by Melbourne-via-Adelaide’s Bitch Prefect, and it took years after that for either of them to actually record and release it. It’s part of the classic Rock Myth: bands building audiences by playing live, music as work, an audience as something that is earnt. For all the dullness these concepts can encourage, they feel welcome, even nostalgic in these days of blog sensations selling out concerts of a size and length they aren’t ready to play at a price they don’t justify to crowds who are only there for one song. Which can be a different kind of awesome, but can also lead to you being stuck in in a crowd of still, open-mouthed oglers at a Grimes concert when all you want to do is dance like a seapunk.
Whether it’s the free tickets or not, they pull an impressive audience for a Monday night in Brisbane (and isn’t that how you’d prefer it?). Their walk-on – all Miami Vice pastel power-dressing and cocaine disco fanfare – matches the seaside condo scene on the cover of the album displayed at the merch table, The North, dispelling speculative fears of a sub-Arcade Fire emo-fest. Their sound follows suit, lightly cribbing disco beats and hard candy keys to colour their intelligent, emotive indie rock (which turns out to be mainly drawn from said album, although a few other songs get decent cheers).
Stars have the strength of a band of individual characters, like The Beatles or Captain Planet’s Planeteers: the solid-staring gum-chewing bass player in sunglasses, the absolute powerhouse drummer in a backwards cap, the grimacing guitarist, the keyboard boffin and the dual singers with the impressive pipes – she alternately cooing sweetly and rock-guitaring; he stalking the stage and the front row, pushing his glasses up his sweaty nose between the croons he peppers with Morrissey-isms. Yep, he’s got the Steven Patrick bug – even slipping the first couplet of ‘Reel Around The Fountain’ into a song. He’s picked up more than the mannerisms too, with his songs sometimes touching the bleeding edge of the uncomfortable.
If it was “The PR Company” that had the idea to let people into the Stars gig for free, they did their job. Stars have got the goods and they sell them. “Let’s pretend it’s a Thursday night!” cries singer Amy, twirling, and for a while it could be. Singer Torquil rams the point home a bit much with his reality-TV-era “Thanks so much for letting us do what we love” speeches, but really: he sells them too. They also sell me an album. I’m sold.