Concert Reviews

Stars with Seoul at The Phoenix Concert Theatre

Photographs by Matt Forsythe.

An entire decade has passed since Stars debuted Set Yourself On Fire, the landmark album that catapulted the band into indie royalty and helped gain international notoriety for their sweet melodies and vivid narratives. The ghostly loves and heartache seeped into that album not only led to a marked creative turn in the band’s history, but it also became a ubiquitous comfort to so many listeners and fans. Though both Stars and their fan base have grown, Set Yourself On Fire is, for many, even after all these years, an inescapable album. 

Thus it should come as no surprise that when Stars announced a one-off show at the Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of the album, the demand became so high that an additional two shows were added to extend the limited celebration while maintaining its intimacy in the venue and music. It was a choice that resulted in, at least at the very first show, a packed crowd that quickly and willingly fell into Stars’ nostalgic time machine, limited edition Set Yourself On Fire beer cans included. 

15In many ways, the event was all about community. Besides bringing old fans (and perhaps some new) under one roof, Stars is working with the Northern Harvest Food Bank and Parkdale Legal to bring food and legal services to those in need in Toronto. They also invited peers and personal favourite Seoul to open the evening with their perfectly dreamy and vibrantly diverse electro-pop, which was a gentle and pleasant taste of what today’s Canadian independent music scene is offering. 

Singer Torquil Campbell walked out and held the vinyl cover of the album to the crowd, evoking passionate cries of the album’s opening voiceover, “When there’s nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire.” The strong internalization of those words, along with the many woes and musings scattered across Set Yourself On Fire, were manifested in a loud and lovely showing from the band and even more enthusiastic sing-a-longs to buried favourites. As expected, album opener and breakout singles “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” and “Ageless Beauty”, songs that regularly appear in Stars’ setlists, set the highest of notes; yet, the real joy of walking down memory lane came from seeing the unpredictable waves of passion at different moments, a point of the differing ties each person who attended Thursday’s show has with Set Yourself On Fire

Though singer Amy Millan later cheered and joked that they managed to perform the album without a teleprompter, it was a wonderful thing to see the entire band approach the evening with such warmth and enjoyment to an audience who has evolved parallel to the band’s transformation over the years. This genuine love persisted in performances from their wide catalogue, including “Midnight Coward”, “Elevator Love Letter”, and “Dead Hearts” and trailed into Torq and Amy’s on-stage banter, which felt like an intimate look into a family’s living room. For some, it may be the only night that they will get a chance to sit back on the couch and reminisce, and if that is the case, they picked one wonderful December evening to relive with a band that provided the perfect soundtrack. 

Thanks to Live Nation Ontario for media access.

About author

Mehek is a Toronto-based writer who dwells in music, film, tech, and everything in between. Find her on Twitter at @whatthemehek where she’s probably talking about the latest release, sharing GIFs, or retelling her awkward encounter with Childish Gambino.