Live at Brudenell Social Club on Tuesday, 2nd October 2007
I'll skip over Lily Fraser's part in proceedings - if I'd wanted a warbler on a perch I'd have bought a canary - and skip straight to Stars, all the way from Montreal to play at the Brudenell. That's some stunt, particularly in light of the fact that they're only doing a tiny handful of gigs in this country. "Props" (as I believe the young people say), then, to the promoters.
Stars make their entrance onto a stage bedecked with flowers to the sound of the opening instrumental of their new album ("The Beginning After The End" is the track; "In Our Bedroom After The War" the album). The first song proper is "Take Me To The Riot", an unlikely rabble rouser given that Stars - in the eyes of some at least - are a twee pop band. Torquil Campbell looks particularly bug-eyed and restless, a rather sanitised Johnny Rotten. Amy Millan looks like she's come straight from work, but as soon as she opens her mouth, it's obvious that she can sing. I mean REALLY sing. Blimey. The turbo-charged five-to-the-bar chorus of "Take Me To The Riot" should be indication enough that in Millan's voice, Stars have one of the least celebrated and most potent weapons in pop music. "Set Yourself On Fire" is next, a sprightly little number with chiming guitars in the chorus and a dreamy ending over which Millan and Campbell purr "Twenty years asleep before you sleep forever", Mmmm. It's followed by an enchanting "Elevator Love Letter" ("I'm so hard for a rich girl", indeed) and the Prince-lite cod funk of "The Ghosts of Genova Heights", before "Bitches In Tokyo" is (are?) unleashed. "You still crumble at my name" whispers Millan with just the slightest hint of a sneer, before launching into a stratospheric chorus about mistakes, lying, sin and sabotage. The chaotic everything-down-the-stairs ending is good too.
I'm still trying to get my breath back when they play "One More Thing", I can't see my notes (such as they are) for the tears in my eyes. The end section is just beautiful, a ragged guitar sprawling all over synth and bass backing. "Personal" is next, a dark little tale of disappointment, crossed wires and mismatched intentions conducted through a series of personal ads. It's a small, clever tragedy, and it's done beautifully. "Heart" again features Millan's wonderful voice (did I mention she can sing a bit?), before "Soft Revolution" and its startling chorus gets an airing. "Midnight Coward" ("I can see what's coming, but I'm not saying it") is a joy, and even "Window Bird" (a song I'm not particularly keen on) sounds good.
My head caves in at "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead". I'm surprised they even attempt it, but it is jaw-droppingly good from the opening lyric to the closing chord. If "Live through this and you won't look back" doesn't get you, then "I'm not sorry I met you, I'm not sorry it's over, I'm not sorry there's nothing to say" almost certainly will. Stunning.
A quick blast through "Reunion" and "What I'm Trying To Say" proves a surprisingly good preface to "Ageless Beauty", and even though Millan coughs and splutters her way through the first verse, it's still spellbinding. The way the melody is altered for the last verse is an old trick, but here it's used to maximum potential. It's a killer. They finish with the suitably anthemic and epic "In Our Bedroom After The War". I don't normally do "uplifting", but this is simply gorgeous. There's a half-band encore that we don't really need, and then it's out into the night, missing a bus by two minutes and a forty-five minute hike home that seems like a two-minute flight.
If you missed this gig, you missed out. It was streets ahead of anything I've seen in a good long while. If you want proof that pop music can be smart and memorable and beautiful and moving, you need look no further. "We're Stars from Montreal". Yep, you sure are.