Concert Review: Stars and Hey Rosetta! @ The Danforth Music Hall – Toronto

Note: Photographs are from February 13th show, review is from February 12th

There are many reasons why I couldn’t miss this swoon-worthy three-day residence at the Danforth Music Hall. Since their first release in 2011, I have been kitchen-dancing, slow-dancing, everything-dancing to Hey Rosetta! This Newfoundland seven-piece orchestral-rock band has transformed an album into a work-of-art when performed live, their textured layers of strings, horns and percussion contributed to what I can only describe as an abstract painting, some would say the audio equivalent to the lush Canadian landscapes of A.Y. Jackson or Lawren Harris of the Group of Seven. When I heard that they were performing alongside Stars – Montreal’s pop-darlings – over Valentine’s Day weekend, I knew that this was what it was all about – an emotionally-charged, love-filled concert to make our hearts soar and ache no matter if we were coupled or uncoupled for the event.

Hey Rosetta! took the stage boldly and gracefully, with the backdrop decorated in shiny silver and gold to complement their recent album Second Sight (2014). I was very impressed with Mara Pellerin playing French horn, Trumpet, Keys and Percussion and Kinley Dowling on Violin. It was hard to not pay attention to the colorful timbre that these instruments produced in each song. Also notably (though on the far side of the stage, so I couldn’t get a satisfying glimpse), was Roshesh Thavanathan on Cello! What a marvelous idea! These additions alongside the unmistakable vocals of Tim Baker (lead vocals), Josh Ward (backing vocals, bass), and Adam Hogan (lead guitar), Phil Maloney (drums) are what made my heart swoon in their presence. My favourite songs are among a personal and handcrafted repertoire: Yer Spring, Welcome, Red Heart. The highlight of my evening was when they performed Kintsukuroi (their latest single), which translates from Japanese: It is the art of mending broken pottery with silver and gold, in turn, making them more beautiful for having been broken.

On this night, from the bottom of my heart, I can say that this performance complements perfectly with the message that Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell have been standing behind as Stars. For the past eleven years I have been listening and dancing, and reading and rereading the depth and mastery of their lyrics—with themes of sex and death—and marveling over how they can turn such sad songs into something one wants to dance to over and over again. Stars’ newest album release in October 2014 is called No One Is Lost – a definite message to all fans who feel hopeless and aimless because of a loss in their lives, or empty voids that have never been filled. The idea that things that are broken can be mended with silver and gold, and then dozens of songs about love and broken hearts, the absence and presence of longing, and feeling the human ache even when you may be in love is what made this evening perfect. Some came to the show as a couple, some came uncoupled; some came single (looking for love), and some came heartbroken (with the hope and knowledge that music can heal). Amy and Torquil began the show with From The Night (their first track off No One Is Lost), and proceeded to mix their repertoire with this beautiful balance of old and new. Songs off of Set Yourself On Fire (2004), and Heart (2003), Up In Our Bedroom After The War (2007), The 5 Ghosts (2010), and The North (2012). Their expansive artwork has had them short-listed for the Polaris Music Prize for The Five Ghosts and deservedly their popularity on Canadian airwaves have grown exponentially since Indie88 has been steadily streaming their newest singles, Trap Door, Hold On When You Get Love (and Let Go When You Give It).

What I love most about Stars is that time and time again they never play the same set twice. A few years ago on The 5 Ghosts tour, I saw them two nights in a row here at the Danforth and the first night was themed Death, and the second night was themed Sex. It sure helps them sift through their catalogue of music and curate something their fans can talk about for years to come. Tonight was different. The stage wasn’t adorned with long-stemmed white roses (as per their show at Massey Hall in 2010) – it was electric! The stage tonight had the band’s name in neon pink across the backdrop and their stage was illuminated in fluorescent disco colors for most of the night. The songs they chose to sing were an array of old and new, but the best part was that it was hard to tell which songs were current and which songs were ancient. The consistency of sound and song quality produced by Millan and Torquil can only say that this Montreal-Toronto band is worth going to see repeatedly. I have never been disappointed. The politically charged Torquil Campbell is an opinionated speaker when he is not touring on stage – he appears frequently on CBC Radio Q and The Strombo Show on Sunday evenings. His passionate intelligence definitely comes out when he is ranting on stage between songs, while he singing Take Me To The Riot, or Dead Hearts – where inevitably, you can see both Torquil and Amy shed a tear on stage every time. The songs do not lose intensity with the passing of time and it surely is music I am proud to support. Amy Millan gave birth to a beautiful baby girl in 2010 and it is a beautiful thing to see the little girl on tour with her and her partner Evan Cranley (on bass).

Each time they play in Toronto, the members of Stars pour their hearts out on stage. They make this tiny (or not so tiny) community feel loved. If you haven’t heard of Stars by now, it is noteable that Torquil, Amy and Evan began as the inaugural members of Broken Social Scene –the community that expanded under Kevin Drew’s record label Arts&Crafts. The authenticity of Stars is an indelible contribution to Toronto’s music scene and the Canadian Music culture as a whole.

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Review by Stefanie Romano (@stefaloves)

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