The Elected and Stars at Metro

FEB. 17, 2006
at the Metro, Chicago

On the coldest night of Chicago’s winter so far, the musical theme at Metro was meteorologically perverse. The Elected came with their songs from “Sun, Sun, Sun,” while Stars offered another suggestion for warmth, playing songs from their 2004 disc “Set Yourself on Fire.”

The Elected, a band that hails from the sunnier climes of Los Angeles, did its best to bring at least a little musical brightness to the room. Led by Blake Sennett, who’s better known as a member of Rilo Kiley, the Elected play delightful light pop – one critic compared them to the Eagles last week, but they make me think of the Mamas and the Papas, the Turtles and the Left Banke. At times, especially when they use pedal steel guitar, the Elected sounds a little like the countriest of Bright Eyes’ music (but with vocals that aren’t a fraction as overwrought as Conor Oberst’s).

The harmonies sounded wonderful in concert. All of that lovely, lilting music might have left some audience members hoping for a little more rock, and for its final song, the Elected obliged. “At Home (Time Unknown),” which also closes the Elected’s new album, ends with an extended jam. A lite-rock guitar duel? Sort of. While these guys are far less powerful than, say, My Morning Jacket, this closing blaze of guitars showed that they are capable of doing more than pretty ooo’ing and ahh’ing.

Stars, from Montreal, were the headliners. (Until I showed up, I wasn’t actually sure who would get top billing in this nice combination of two well-regarded indie-rock bands.)

“Set Yourself on Fire” has several great songs, and several others that seem a little lackluster to me. The concert was much the same (though it did include songs from Stars’ earlier records, as well as a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart,” in addition to the “Set Yourself on Fire” tracks).

Given the fact that this band includes a violin and trumpet and alternating/harmonizing male and female lead vocalists, in addition to the standard rock instrument lineup, you’d think Stars would have the potential for a wide variety of sounds and arrangements, but the group tends to stick to similarly bland settings. Its melodies are good, sometimes very good, though, and those harmonies can be awfully touching, the way Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan’s voices blend.

Stars is a good band with the potential, as yet unrealized, to be a great band. Whatever my opinions on Stars, I could see they’ve reached a pretty loyal cult following. The show was sold out, and the predominantly young crowd at this 18-and-over concert adored Stars. As the singers stretched out their arms during some of the more memorable lyrics, I sensed a swooning among many of the youngsters in attendance.

So, hey, if Stars is connecting with listeners to this degree, I won’t complain too much.