Stars @ The Deaf Institute, Manchester, 26 Sep

A triumphant run through the seminal Set Yourself on Fire reveals the Canadian stalwarts' ongoing importance

Live Review by Joe Goggins | 10 Oct 2019
  • Stars

“We’re from the east coast of Canada. The people there are bigger cunts than you northerners!”

Clad in a ‘God Created Manchester’ T-shirt and battling well-intentioned hecklers with relish, Torquil Campbell is clearly a man in his element. Born in Sheffield, raised in Canada and an avowed Anglophile, the Stars frontman is revelling in a long-overdue return to the north of England. “I’ve spent my life listening to music from here, trying not to forget where I was from."

By now, plenty in the audience might have spent half of their own listening to his. The recent spate of 15th anniversary tours remains a peculiar one but nobody should ever need much of an excuse to celebrate Set Yourself on Fire. The band's third album and their masterpiece to date, it's an album that, in retrospect, feels visionary. It straddles multiple genres and careens through different styles in a manner that, all the way back in 2004, predicted how changing methods of music consumption would go on to breed eclectic tastes in the years that followed.

Accordingly, even the sometimes stultifying custom of running through the album in front-to-back order doesn’t prevent this rendition of Set Yourself on Fire from feeling scintillatingly vital. Crammed onto the less-than-generous square footage of The Deaf Institute’s stage, the six-piece team through the record in a fashion both faithful and somehow more vibrant. From the grandiosity of opener Your Ex-Lover Is Dead to the urgent proto-punk of What I’m Trying to Say, there’s a palpable energy that stands as proof positive that these songs haven’t been withered by the passage of time.

The show also provides further evidence that the axis around which the album revolves is the reflective one-two of One More Night and Sleep Tonight. Amy Millan – making her first appearance in Manchester since she joined Broken Social Scene at their emotionally-charged Albert Hall show in May 2017 – is a vocal powerhouse on the latter.

As much as Set Yourself on Fire is the main attraction, the band burst into a second, career-spanning set at such pace it's as if they consider it an affront to suggest they might call it a night once the final notes of Calendar Girl rang out. Instead, we get a good look at a different Stars altogether, the dancier, synth-indebted outfit they’ve become in recent years. There’s three shots of dark disco in the form of Real Thing, Fluorescent Light and epic closer No One Is Lost, as well as the glitchy Walls and the softly anthemic Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It. 

A couple of days later, Campbell will speak powerfully on Twitter of his experience of Europe on this tour, relative to North America: “Far from perfect, but still a place where art means something to society.” Tonight, he’s clearly angling for any opportunity to come back as soon as possible, even half-jokingly throwing out the prospect of staging a play he’s written here. “If we come back, will you?”

On this evidence, that is not in question; Stars, and Set Yourself on Fire, still mean something to these people, to this audience. “We are Stars”, shouts Campbell, as they finally close out with a stripped-back, piano-driven Tonight for the encore. “And so are you.”