Dried flowers and framed Victorian silhouettes decorated the stage for Stars’ show at the Orpheum Theater Saturday night; it appeared that the party was over and all that was left was the detritus waiting to be swept away. It’s an apt setting for the Montreal band — its songs specialize in sifting through the remains of relationships, looking for the cracks and fissures. All of which made Torquil Campbell’s opening demand that the youthful aud get on its feet and stay there for the show’s 90 minutes feel a little odd — perhaps not quite as odd as the large number of couplesusing such romantically pessimistic music as date-night fodder, but odd nonetheless.
Campbell — the more cynical of Stars’ two lead singers — would rather dance his way through the pain. In the songs from “In Our Bedroom” “After the War” (Arts & Crafts), sex is a balm but also the pain. “What now kid? Which way love? Will we ever make up and be friends?” he croons in “Take Me to the Riot,” but it ends up in a shrug: “You despise me and I love you/it’s not too much but it’s enough to keep.”
It results in a show that’s not too far from the jittery, anguished post-new wave pop of the early- and mid-’80s. Campbell’s voice has the stifled sob and dramatic ache of Morrissey (a debt acknowledged by a slowed down cover of “This Charming Man”). But when paired with Amy Millan’s fluttery whisper on songs such as the missed connection of “Personal” or the nervous, one-night-stand pillow talk of “Midnight Coward” (the only thing the couple can agree on is “I’ll be the first to leave”) Stars’ hitches the bubbly, driving rhythms and call-and-response vocals of the Human League and the Thompson Twins with the more nuanced compositions of Prefab Sprout and opening act Lloyd Cole.
Like the relationships they limn, Stars’ songs don’t take a straight line. They’re closer to mini-suites, bouncing wildly from one mood to another, giving them a vertiginous energy. A song such as “Window Bird” starts out timid but builds to a crescendo as ferociously massive as the end of “Abbey Road.”
Cole opened the show with a short solo set that mixed early Commotions’ songs such as “Perfect Skin” and “Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?” — the latter chosen, one would imagine, because of its lyrical reference to the late Norman Mailer — with more recent tunes such as “Woman in a Bar’s” account of middle-aged lust, and served as a reminder that he remains one of the sharpest and most literate songwriters working today.