ESPLANADE CONCERT HALL, 7th January 2009
It’s a rock concert cliché, really, an oft-familiar sight at rock concerts: the applauding, adoring crowd lifting a wall of adulation around the triumphant homecoming rock band heroes. Nothing out of the ordinary, right? To paraphrase Paul Celan, rock music is a sort of homecoming. What made this particular scenario different, however, was that the baffled but very much thrilled rock band on stage hailed from a town 9200 miles away from the venue of the concert.
To tell the truth, I didn’t really rank myself as a Stars fan when I decided to attend this concert together with Kevin. I had heard of them, sure. How they started off doing ambient, melodic electronica before discovering the art of actually playing instruments on their 2005 breakthrough album, Set Yourself On Fire, and how they’d garnered themselves quite a fanbase overseas as their fame steadily spread. Still, they only existed on the fringes of musical consciousness before then. Which was why I surprised myself when I accepted Kevin’s offer to attend the concert with him.
It’s been said that the audience is a rock band’s most crucial instrument. Stars certainly appeared to have taken that maxim to heart as lead vocalists Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan worked the crowd into a storm throughout the concert by throwing roses into the audience. Initially there were some technical issues pertaining to the sound, which resulted in the very odd sight of Campbell running off stage during Amy’s vocal turns to shout instructions to the sound technicians.
No technical problems, however, could keep Stars from the audience that night. The audience was enthusiastic and positively overjoyed from simply being present at the concert, and their enthusiasm was infectious as the band replied stirringly in kind, producing that certain sort of magic to a live performance of a song that studio performances can’t achieve. Thus it was so that numbers such as Ageless Beauty, The Night Starts Here and Calendar Girl transformed from the quietly mesmerizing tracks they are on the various albums into positively ethereal experiences that spellbound the audience into closed-eyed singalong abandon. In fact, it was almost a religious experience, transcendental in the degree of surrender the audience trusted to the band, as Kevin remarked midway through. As the band launched into a gleeful performance of Elevator Love Letter, I felt every inch of cynicism and apathy within me melt away and willingly gave myself over to the infectious singalong chorus.
One moment defined the concert for me. Midway through the encore performance of Calendar Girl, Torquil embarked on his own personal Lake of Genesareth moment, falling into the audience feet first. The clustered crowd at the front of the stage willingly carried him out of the stage as he walked unsteadily upon the uplifted palms of the crowd members.
He reached the seated areas, and did not stop. As the band played on the hypnotically captivating bridge of the song, Torquil waded further into the crowd, every step on the seats of the audience a relentless invasion and attack on the distance between the band and the audience. “I’m alive,” he screamed, the soft hook from the song transforming now into a statement of intent and a declaration of faith in the audience.
It’s oddly contradictory that the distance between the audience and the performer is only as long as the link that binds them together: music. The size and sweep of the music performed can be crucial to how closely a band connects to an audience. But in that one perfect moment, as Torquil tilted his head back and howled a wordless cry of grace, gratitude and carthatic emotion at the audience that reached out at him with outstretched hands, they were together as one in that sweeping anthem of perfect intimacy.
“We are Stars, and so are you,” proclaimed Torquil just before they left the stage for the last time. It was a statement that rang profoundly true in more ways than one.
(Samuel C Wee)
From my vantage point, it was clear that Stars were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm that swept over them like a tidal wave from the sell out crowd. Torq joked about having lost a $100 bet that the audience would be composed of Canadian English teachers rather than true blue Singaporeans and that probably summed up the delight and surprise at moving over a 1000 tickets in Singapore.
But that is the power of the internet, surely, indeed, the power of pop!
Initially, I was shocked by the shoddy sound and perhaps the band was affected by that challenge as well as Stars opened their set a tad tenatively. But once they got into their collective stride, there was no stopping them. With each succeeding song intro being drowned out by the crowd’s besotted response, it seemed that there was an electric exchange between band and audience (that frankly is not that common in Singapore) that swell into a crescendo of mutual adoration.
Live, Stars were a harder edged proposition than their elegaic recordings would suggest. I personally enjoyed the strength of their melodic hooks in songs like Take Me To The Riot, What I’m Trying To Say, Elevator Love Letter, Undertow and of course, Ageless Beauty. Incandescent moments. This is a concert that will live long in the memory.