Concert review: Stars please Plush party, Friday, October 5

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Montreal’s Stars made a return visit to St. Louis last night, this time at the fun restaurant/bar/venue/hangout that is Plush.

The Midtown venue felt a little cramped for Stars, who previously played here a few years back in an open field at Washington University and at the Pageant in 2008.

I think the main issue in terms of sight lines are the two huge beams in the middle of the dance floor. I suppose the owners can’t do much about this other than pushing the bar further back to allow for more floor room.
I went into the show not expecting too much, as the band’s last two albums were a little uneven. Stars had hit their stride with two stellar mid-2000s records, “Set Yourself on Fire” (2004) and “In Our Bedroom After the War” (2007).

After squirming and straining to see all of the band members throughout their 90-minute set, I emerged from Plush re-energized about the band and ready to give their new album, “The North,” a fighting chance to remain on my iTunes for the long haul.

The band kicked things off with “The Theory of Relativity,” also the first track from the new album. It featured some old-school Stars synth lines as well as a Human League-like electronic beat. The song set the tone for what would prove to be an upbeat night of music overall.

Stars stuck with new material at the start, including “A Song is a Weapon,” to generally favorable responses. Then the quintet laid down “Ageless Beauty,” an iconic indie-rock song that helped define the 2000s for many fans electronic-rock music. Funny thing is, the band decided to go lo-fi and play this and many other tunes as guitar rockers. I thought it was a nice twist. At times, it sounded like Guided By Voices had stuck around at Plush for another week to play a special Stars tribute show.

The harmonies from lead singers Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell shone through the noise like a beacon, as they usually do. Millan and Campbell traded off lead and harmony, high and low, guitar and toy-Casio-wind-instrument-thing to stunning effect. They literally leaned on each other throughout the show when one needed help from the other.

A few songs fell flat, such as the yacht rock-ish (in a bad way) title track from the new record. Also “Do You Want To Die Together?” came off as a darkly bizarre Roy Orbison-meets-”Glee” show tune that eluded me a bit. But they usually would bounce back with shots of adrenaline, like when they played the disco-inspired “We Don’t Want Your Body,” from their 2010 album, “The Five Ghosts.” Millan and Campbell sung and danced in a way that would have made Barry, Robin and Maurice proud.

Campbell ran through Smiths verses to open a few songs, including verses of “Unhappy Birthday” to open “Your Ex-lover Is Dead” and “Reel Around The Fountain” to open “Take Me to the Riot.” The latter song was easily the highlight of the night, igniting the crowd to a near riot. It didn’t rival the chaos seen at Turner Field after the Cardinals beat the Braves, but it was invigorating nonetheless.

Another highlight was “Elevator Love Letter,” an odd song that is nondescript at the start, but gets better and better as it goes along. As the early Stars hit is ending, you find yourself singing along and wishing it would keep going.

One of the night’s final songs was the infectious crowd-pleaser “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It.” A better (and simpler) title could have been “Ode to New Order.” I closed my eyes during the song and I actually believed I was at a New Order concert for a minute — actually kind of great, given I’ve never been to a New Order show.

Before singing one last a cappella song with Millan, Campbell announced that he would soon transform into DJ Dirty Kimono for an after-party at the venue, which sounded fun. Unfortunately, I had to bounce.

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