Torquil Campbell is a man with something to say.
And the Canadian singer often does so surrounded by the five other members of his chamber-pop band Stars, which recently released a marvelous new disco album, No One Is Lost, last month.
I confess that I was pleasantly surprised by the band’s performance at the 9:30 Club on Thursday, Nov. 13, when I learned why they have amassed a large following over a seven-album tenure. But the standout performer among the band that night was Campbell, who put passion, grit and catharsis to a powerful set of songs, the best of which hailed from the latest album, in my opinion.
First let me say that I caught a performance of Stars only once previously at the Coachella Music Festival in 2013. In that performance, I was thrown a bit by the clear new wave influences in the band’s music, as I tend to anticipate our chamber pop bands to foray more into folk pop.
But Campbell and company weren’t interested in conforming to my preconceived notions. He and co-lead singer Amy Millan poured themselves into a 22-song set that began with the lovely “From the Night” from the new album and closed (before the encore) with the same album’s title track, a musically and lyrically mighty confrontation of loss, grappling with the concepts of loneliness and death — while remaining a stunning dance track.
Campbell handles lead vocals on that number himself, as he does with another standout song on the new album, Trap Door, a song about the transient (and perhaps meaningless) nature of being on top or maybe the hollow pursuits of status in a world where status confers nothing particularly special upon you.
As the band leaps into full boogie mode, Campbell’s emoting keeps pace and he stamps out lyrics like, “You always did the things they told you to/You always bought that shit they sold you, sold you.” Clad in tie and jacket, Campbell looks downright professorial, but he makes for a formidable frontman.
The band are entirely in good spirits Thursday night despite confronting questions as to whether anything we do ever matters. The very full room at the 9:30 Club absolutely adores Stars, and the sing-alongs (most notably on “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead”) and dancing from the audience put Campbell and Milan in a cheerful disposition, and even encourages them to take their performances up a notch.
Of course, the duo singers take advantage of their lineup to sing the occasional duet, such as with “One More Night,” a song about a last night between two lovers from their 2004 album, Set Yourself on Fire. They deftly use the number of people in their band to good advantage, swapping vocal duties and instruments as circumstances warrant.
Stars have only five more U.S. dates, starting tomorrow night in St. Louis, before hopping to Europe and Canada. If you don’t get a chance to catch them now, they return for more U.S. dates in March 2015. This may be their best album, and they are certainly in top form, so it’s time to see them if you’ve missed them so far or if it’s been a while.