concert reviews

Cheery Darkness From Montreal
Stars at the Black Cat, Washington, DC, Friday 24 February 2006

People tend to lump Montreal chamber-pop group Stars together with indie-rock collective Broken Social Scene, and it's easy to see why: They have several members in common and both release albums on Canadian label Arts & Crafts. Stars also shares Broken Social Scene's tendency to perform with a large ensemble, and at a sold-out Black Cat on Friday night, all seven Stars (including keyboards, two guitars, a violin and a trumpet) contributed to its bouncy but lushly orchestrated melodies.

More often than not, those cheery melodies were accompanied by surprisingly melancholy lyrics. "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead" featured dark choruses ("I'm not sorry it's over/I'm not sorry there's nothing to save") alongside a striking violin melody, while the up-tempo rhythm of "Set Yourself on Fire" disguised the song's underlying loneliness. That upbeat mopiness came with a sense of humor: Vocalist Torquil Campbell dedicated the spooky "He Lied About Death" to Vice President Cheney, "for finally having the courage to shoot someone himself."

Campbell and fellow singer Amy Millan often traded off lead vocals within a song, creating a dialogue on "The Big Fight" and the dramatic "Heart." On its own, Millan's voice was particularly sweet, from the swirling shoegaze of "Ageless Beauty" to the bouncy indie-pop "Elevator Love Letter," her vocals anchored the group's charmingly energetic set.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post, 27 February 2006; Page C04
.: Selected discography: Set Yourself on Fire (Stars, 2005); Heart (Stars, 2003); Nightsongs (Stars, 2001).