Photos by Katrina Lat.
Stage lights flood purple into the Great Hall’s theatre as people pour in through the doors. Regina Gently, the opening act, is already set up on the theatre’s low stage. She DJs a collection of dance, pop and electronic music through the theatre’s speakers. Light fog floats out from the stage, dyed purple by the lights. The fog, music and people meet in the middle of the theatre.
The Great Hall, on the corner of Queen Street West and Dovercourt Road, is a warm and inviting venue. Red velvet curtains, chandeliers, radiators, a bar and a balcony with coloured spotlights on either side decorate the theatre space. The stage is low enough so you feel right there with the artists. Waist-high cylinder lights are spaced out on the stage. A few people sit against those radiators to warm up from the cold night.
The crowd forms against the stage or the railing on the balcony as couples embrace to the upbeat music Gently pours into the hall. Every person in the theatre – audience and performer – dances together to the music. Stage lights change from a constant purple to a pulsing bright pink. Fun and rhythm shake the room. It’s a big party. The crowd cheers on Gently’s dance moves. After the hour-long set seems to fly-by, Gently confidently asks if the crowd is warmed up. Shouts of full agreement ring out in whoops and whistles. Satisfied, she makes her exit – Gently does it.
Stars takes the stage as the crowd dances to their arrival. The waist-high cylinder lights, stage lights and balcony lights all shine different colours for each song to add to the music and performance overall.
Stars, the Montreal-based five-piece, released their new album There Is No Love in Fluorescent Light last month. The setlist for the night contained both classic songs and new hits. “Real Thing” from the new album is an upbeat, shuffling, groove-centric, dance anthem – no one could resist dancing to it. That’s part of Stars’ appeal – their balance of upbeat songs, mellow songs and their musicianship.
Having two lead-singers, Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan, Stars knows how to use that dynamic to serve their music and performance. Campbell and Millan switch from trading vocal lines to singing in duets, which feels makes their songs feel like an intimate conversation. Campbell and Millan sometimes hold eye contact when they sing. Campbell gets on his knees and he even stands on what looks like every piece of space on stage. Every person in the room is physically involved in the music, breaking the boundaries between performer and audience.
When the two singers turn back to the crowd during the songs, you’re part of that intimate conversation. The crowd sings with Stars, and Campbell sometimes shouts the words to the crowd without using the microphone. During “Trap Door”, Campbell throws himself on the stage’s floor in pure emotion as Stars finishes off the song.
“Music saved my life,” Campbell says. He says that all that he wanted was to be in a band with his friends and have some support. He’s still in awe of the support they continue to get. Campbell gathers everybody’s attention between songs. He says that 2017 has been has been a tough year and to remedy that, he asks everyone to spend 2018 thinking about certain ideas: colour, light, love, peace, generosity – and many more. The crowd, hearing his speech, cheer approvingly of his sentiment and message.
Stars then sails into “Your Ex-Lover is Dead.” The theatre cheers from the very first note and sings every word together. Millan throws a handful of flowers into the crowd during the song. People in the middle of the crowd jump to catch them. People in the crowd chant “we love you, Amy!” after the song ends.
Between songs, Campbell tells everyone that the drummer, Pat McGee, is playing with a broken finger. The crowd cheers for McGee’s resolve – broken pinky and all – which shows the support first-hand that the people have for Stars.
After the last note of their last song, the band says goodbye and leaves the stage. The crowd sustains an unyielding applause during their absence. Stars retakes the stage to play an encore of four songs. Before the final song, they thank everyone again. Campbell brings up the concepts again for next year and says a final goodbye to the crowd.
The audience slowly pours out of the theatre after Stars make their exit. Some stay to talk to new friends, old friends, to finish their drinks and to soak up some warmth – before plunging back into the night and towards 2018.