Stars and the Elected get Wash U's vote!
J. Gordon
2/23/2006 7:37:34 PM

The ads read ‘Doors: 7:30 p.m.’ and the kids were packed in tight around the stairs near the entrance of Washington University’s Gargoyle in St. Louis. The question on everyone’s mind that night was initially, ‘can Stars make everything happen sonicly that they do in the studio?’ But with the doors remaining shut tight until after 9:00 p.m., more still wondered if anything was going to be happening at all that evening.

Billed to start at 8, opening band, the Elected, rolled onto stage at about 9:15. We soon found out what the hold-up was:

“We got pulled over by the police today,” said the Elected’s lead singer/guitarist, Blake Sennett (best known as the male lead of Rilo Kiley). “They searched our van for a couple of hours and they wouldn’t give me back my jacket. Fuck the police. We made it here anyway!”

Despite being worn down and a little bit angry, in person, Sennett has a soft, delicate quality about him that makes him look a bit like a girl with a thick mustache. And despite the bad mood, he didn’t have too hard of a time charming this indie crowd. Like a more plugged-in Bright Eyes, The Elected boasted a full band behind Sennett featuring a killer slide guitar, meaningful lyrics and memorable tunes all around.

Halfway through a song, he stopped to comment on a low hum. “Things have gotten very weird up here,” he said. Then he continued, “So I’m in this other band…” [loud applause for Rilo Kiley] “and we’re not allowed to stop a song halfway through and talk about it…” Sennett said he’d only played St. Louis once before, with “the other band” whom he never mentioned by name. “We opened for a huge group at the Verizon Horseshit Center. It was pretty lame.” He was, of course, referring to Rilo Kiley, opening for the thousands of yuppie-sweatered, Top 40-listening Coldplay fans last September at the Savvis Center. Touring on their CD, Sun, Sun, Sun [Sub Pop], they easily won a lot of new fans—if not the hearts of the Missouri State troopers.

“Here is our big rock and roll show for you,” Stars’ vocalist Torquil Campbell said as a greeting, and then this Canadian indie rock band headlining act promptly took over the show. Originally formed in Toronto by Campbell and keyboardist Chris Seligman in 2001, Campbell said they’d never before played St. Louis.

So, to answer that question of whether Stars is just a studio band or the whole package; Well, yes, they are a great live package—but no, they couldn’t pull everything off. Vocally, they were perfect. Singer-guitarist Amy Millan is just as charming, sweet and smooth as on album, Campbell nails every emotion as if he’s feeling it for the first time, and they are instrumentally fantastic. That said, those little nuances; the fullness of the sound and the aural surprises of recorded Stars did fade a little in their live show sky. No matter. This band’s two worst songs could kick the asses of most any other indie band today. To be fair, some of that less-than robust sound may have been due to sound problems on the percussion. Campbell finally gave up trying to cover for drummer Pat McGee and said, “Our sound system cut out so our drummer has no mic. You’re just gonna have to feel the drums. This is the real shit. Do you think Elvis Presley had his drums mic-ed? And just look where he is now!”

One of the greatest things about this band is that, despite a distinctive indie-pop sound, every song is clearly unique, with its own mood and rhythms never cloned from the last few you’ve just heard them do.

“We are Stars of Montreal,” Campbell announced again, an hour into the gig. “You seem to have a very nice community here. This is our life, you know. You’ll forget us soon, but thanks for making our dreams come true.”

But with the popularity of Stars’ breakthrough single hit the U.S. in 2005, “Ageless Beauty,” from their third full-length 2004 album, Set Yourself on Fire [Arts & Crafts]—which a great number of the songs that evening were from--it’s doubtful we’ll be forgetting them anytime very soon. During the middle of the song, the house lights at Gargoyle all flipped on to a blinding white clarity that may or may not have been an accident. In any case, back off they went, to finish the night with a few more great tunes in the cool darkness.

Campbell’s stage-banter opinion on America as a whole was something else entirely from his view of the St. Louis community: “So, Saturday night, we sat around, listening to Jerry Garcia, and smoked a bowl and talked about how fucked American politics is. Today, the Elected got busted and we all missed our in-store at Vintage Vinyl due to absolutely draconian marijuana laws.” The band then launched into a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s tune, “Hungry Heart” that, with its sweet charm and less grinding tempo, far surpassed the original. The crowd clapped in rhythm and Campbell called out after the show to the mostly Washington University students, “I was told you don’t even have a music department! Fucking amazing! Let’s get to the songs about sex and death before we run out of time…”

Toward the end of the show, Chris Seligman (keyboards, programming and French horn), seemingly bowled over by the warm audience response, leapt to the mic and said, “I never get on the microphone, but you guys are great!” Next, Campbell had a little more political fun picking on Dick Cheney (oh, but that’s just too easy the week of the shooting incident…) and then launched into the greatest song on the last album, “He Lied About Death.” Here, all the moody atmospherics bloomed to their fullest, darkest, most beautiful potential. They’d saved the best for last. And then Campbell took the mic one last time, telling the audience he didn’t want the evening to end… “Let’s think of the person we hate the most in this song,” he said, “and kiss them on the neck…” and they closed with “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead.”

All in all, it was a killer show, and certainly worth the wait. We just hope it’s worth it to Stars and the Elected to come back.

Watch out for those troopers.


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