Outside of their Canada home base, Stars have yet to propel their literate, intimate melodramas in expansive song to Arcade Fire-ish levels of success. Tonight's show, then, sees the Montreal-based band occupying the territory of the little-bought but selectively, passionately loved indie band: no bad position to be in when a patchy gig calls for the kind of loving fan base who'll embrace you despite your faults.
Stars' boy-girl, call-response vocals steer their songs into unexpected avenues. Introduced tonight as one to "bum you out", the pocket-tragic terrain of "Personal" is a case in point. Its personal-ad theme sees Torquil Campbell assuming the role of "Single M" and receiving a reply from Amy Millan's "Single F", a sweetly lovelorn set-up that crashes into cruel reality when "F" declares herself "Grieving over loss/ Sorry to be heavy/ But heavy is the cost". Sounding suspiciously like a cad, "M" responds by wimping out on a date.
Brisk sonic flurries lend a levity to these lyrical complexities. As Campbell busies himself with mouth organ and trumpet, and synths sparkle, the likes of "Ageless Beauty" and "The Night Starts Here" twinkle with romantic possibility.
What fells these efforts, though, is a reedy sound mix. Depth and drive go missing somewhere around five rows from the stage, with Millan and Campbell's struggling vocals trailing behind. It's touch and go early on in the set: as audience members chat among themselves, swift redress is called for.
Happily, Stars find their form. The galloping, Morrissey-ish "Take Me to the Riot" is made for swinging bunches of gladioli to, and Campbell rises to the task by tossing out flowers, and announcing his love for London shows so often that it gets a bit embarrassing. Whenever attention threatens to dissipate, they pull a killer song out of the bag – and they don't come much more killer than "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead", which packs all the precision of a well-honed short story into the painfully honest tale of two ex-lovers sharing a taxi long after their fireworks have gone. Stars didn't light up the sky at this show, but they provided enough to explain why they keep fans' torches burning.