Erika Goldring, Getty Images The four members of Little Big Town will…
- Posted on Jul 27th 2010 7:00PM by Tabassum Siddiqui
Weekend-long festivals, with their lengthy days of myriad musical offerings from morning to night, can prove exhausting by the time they wrap up, but a massive, eager crowd remained on hand to watch Montreal/Toronto indie-rockers Stars close out the Hillside Festival in Guelph Sunday night.
From the edge of the main stage right back to the lake, revellers jammed the island as far as the eye could see, waiting for the band to take the stage, which was festooned with a large backdrop depicting Victorian-style ghosts (in keeping with the band's new album, 'The Five Ghosts').
Despite a lengthy set-up of the band's extensive gear, a muddy sound mix plagued the first part of the set, frontman Torquil Campbell's vocals largely swallowed up by the propulsive racket of dance-y first number 'We Don't Want Your Body', which otherwise worked perfectly as a big opener, the band giving it a loose, fun spin that nicely undercut the slight self-consciousness of the album version.
Campbell's co-vocalist Amy Millan received a huge cheer when she shimmied onto the stage in a sequinned dress partway through the song, trading off lines with Campbell on the arch chorus -- Stars' strength lies in the balance between the band's singers, and that yin-yang interplay was in full effect during their Hillside set, the duo often singing the choruses directly to each other, eye-to-eye, arms wrapped around one another.
While the sound only began to improve a few songs in, Stars' stadium-style approach -- they've always been the kings (and queen) of the grand gesture, but have truly developed into a 'big-stage' band -- underscored just how far Hillside itself has come in recent years: the amphitheatre-style main stage has been beefed up to include a full lighting rig (which was used to colourful effect during Stars' dramatic show), and the sound is as huge as any arena. Hard to believe the festival didn't even have a permanent main stage until only a few years ago.
And if there was an act to take advantage of such a setting, Stars would be it -- with its synth-heavy, rhythmic edge, the new material from 'The Five Ghosts' lends itself well to their passionate, almost theatrical live show, with tracks like 'The Passenger' given a dark, brooding spin to offset its poppier bent.
Stars have always traded in that mix of dark and light, showcased to striking effect during their Hillside set, which drew from their wide-ranging back catalogue to include older hits like Millan's always-anthemic 'Ageless Beauty' and the furious energy of 'Take Me to the Riot', featuring Campbell in all his vein-popping, note-sustaining glory.
Reaching back to their earliest days, the serene, retro-flavoured 'Going, Going, Gone' took on a less wispy, more muscular bent with heavier synths, and offered one of the festival's visual highlights, closing with Millan holding a high note, shimmering in a solo spotlight.
It wasn't all melodrama and romanticism, though -- what keeps Stars from tipping into overly-saccharine territory is their often-biting sense of humour, usually filtered through Campbell's wry banter -- introducing 'Set Yourself on Fire', the singer quipped: "When there's nothing left to burn, you have to set the f---ing British Petroleum stations on fire."
Though their set offered a nice balance of old hits and new favourites, 'Five Ghosts' track 'How Much More' seemed somewhat of an anticlimactic choice to close on -- but brought back for an encore, Stars finished with the indelible one-two punch of 'Your Ex-Lover is Dead' (turning both the stage lights and their microphones on the crowd for a massive sing-along), and a sultry, sexy, sinister run through 'One More Night' that sent everyone home blissful and sated.
Finding the right act to round out a festival can be a tricky balance, but Hillside's choice of Stars proved prescient -- not only are they the rare band that can bring together musical constituencies with their savvy take on indie-rock that incorporates hard and soft, sweet and sour, but after a decade together (Campbell never fails to offer humble, gracious thanks to the fans that have kept the band going for that long), they've proved that they've grown into an act more than worthy of headlining a major event.