Seeing Stars at the Gargoyle

I don’t suck at life, so naturally, I don’t watch The O.C. or shop at Urban Outfitters, but I do know that both The O.C. and Urban Outfitters have, as of late, made a business of introducing indie music to kids who were listening to Backstreet Boys five years ago. For better or for worse, bands like Death Cab for Cutie and their indie cohorts have been dragged into the spotlight.  I’m sure the producers of The O.C. are always on the prowl for whatever hot new indie band they can exploit. If there’s one band that’s ripe for the picking, it’s the Stars.The Stars came to Wash U’s Gargoyle last week, along with Californian folksters The Elected.  After a two-hour marijuana-related delay, the The Elected finally took the stage and soothed the crowd with country-tinted pop ditties. Sporting a line up of pop super stars (Blake Sennett of Rilo Kiley fame and Daniel Brummel of the late, great Ozma), the Elected had no trouble winning over the impatient crowd with solid tunes. After about an hour or so of country-fried rock, The Elected left the stage and the Stars began to set up shop.If you’ve ever been to the Gargoyle, you’ll know that it’s not the biggest of stages. Maybe a four-piece would fit comfortably on it, but nothing more. The Stars somehow managed to cram all seven starlets onto the tiny stage, and with relative ease. When the Stars finally packed themselves onto the stage, they began blowing the crowd away with their calming, yet interesting brand of electrically-inclined pop gems.As far as style goes, the Stars are rather hard to pinpoint. Each song carries its own energy. One moment they seem to be channeling New Order, and the next they’re in Morrissey territory. Their diverse song-writing and vast instrumentation keep them hard to label. When I say vast instrumentation, I don’t mean over-instrumentation, like Sting, or lame instrumentation, like the Goo Goo Dolls; I mean solid, well-thought-out instrumentation along the lines of the Cure or Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros. Now, it’s easy for a band to call all kinds of string and horn players and have them beef songs for the album, but when it comes down to live shows, the band is stripped down and, without all those filler instruments, the songs sound flat and dull. This is NOT the case with the Stars, whose seven touring members included a keyboardist, two guitarists, a bassist, a trumpeter, a drummer and a violinist. On songs like “One More Night (Your Ex-Lover Remains Dead),” the live instrumentation really shines through.The set covered songs from all three Stars albums, but a majority of the night’s songs were off of the band’s most recent album: Set Yourself on Fire. If anything gets the Stars on The O.C., it will be Set Yourself on Fire. As an album, it is undeniably excellent. Live, the new tracks sounded even better. From the dancey title track to the almost sickeningly catchy “The First Five Times,” all the songs sounded great.Despite being from Canada and being two hours behind schedule, the band was very personable and friendly with the crowd. At one point in the set, the stage lights cut out and the band continued playing in absolute darkness, until the hipsters in the crowd busted out their flip phones and illuminated the band with a sea of eerie electronic blue. Throughout the blackout, the band continued to play, and, after the blackout, they made jokes about it and continued their set. The band peppered the rest of the set with random comments to the crowd, in between songs.One of the strongest qualities of the Stars is the dual vocal effect. The bassist and the trumpeter shared vocals, with the trumpeter taking most of the work. The best songs were those that showcased both singers acting out dialogue. The bassist’s female vocals were phenomenal and complimented the trumpeter’s vocals perfectly. Imagine the glory of The Postal Service’s “Nothing Better,” only better. After a brief but beautiful encore of “The First Five times,” the band left the stage around midnight and the crowd of Washington University hipsters (and at least one SLU hipster) disappeared into the night. I’m not sure if the Stars has been featured on The O.C. yet, but despite my feelings about that show, it’s one band that actually deserves any hype it gets.

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