Opening up the KOR PROJECT, an art/music multimedia benefit, stellastarr* used this one-off concert as a showcase for their new material, most of which had never been heard before – let alone ever performed live. The new songs were, as singer/guitarist Shawn Christensen had stated in his QRO interview, “rawer”, with more “urgency” and “aggression” than their previous releases, stellastarr* and Harmonies for the Haunted (both of which were also featured a bit in the set, especially their self-titled debut), but these pieces were anything but one-note. With their writing nearly done, stellastarr* looks set to go into the studio this fall, and from their performance on August 23rd at New York’s Highline Ballroom (QRO venue review), what will come out of that studio will be something special.
Of the eight new songs played, two had been previously released on the band’s MySpace page, “Warchild” and “The People”. The gritty, intense “Warchild” had been up since January, and played in previous concerts (QRO live review), but the slow, tragically passionate “The People” had been up for only nine days. In many ways, these two were, as Christensen had said, a “very good sign” of what they’ve been working on, but, if anything, the two under-sold the never-before-seen material. Perhaps it was just that “Warchild” and “The People” lacked the kind of anticipation that the rest of the new work had going for them, but they were almost the ‘lesser’ of eight goods – No, make that of eight greats.
The first new song of the night was the first song of the night, “Tokyo Sky”, whose catchy, up-down rhythm and power made it a wonderful opener (and could easily serve the same role on the forthcoming release). Both “The People” and “Warchild” were also laid down, early in the set, along with the as-yet-unnamed ‘Mandy’s Song’. Bassist/singer Amanda Tannen’s number was, unsurprisingly, bass- and percussion-heavy (but then again, so was “The People”), but laid over that was a declarative anthem of beauty and force. The set-list was somewhat front-loaded with new material, in a ‘two new songs, one old song’ pattern, before going into and out of their encore break with two old pieces. Middle-of-the-set new numbers were the staccato “Winter Song”, a dark-but-hopeful piece that expanded, while remaining intimate, and “Civilized”, a pressing, mournful plea. Finally came “Numbers”, a driving song that still mixed things up, while getting big and powerful, and “Move On”, a sad-loving tale that carried the crowd along in its highs and lows.
stellastarr* playing "Civilized" live @ Highline Ballroom, New York, NY:
The older songs interspersed among the new material were largely stellastarr* show staples, like “In The Walls” (a live favorite of theirs), previous singles “Jenny”, “My Coco”, and “Sweet Troubled Soul”, and their usual finisher, “Pulp Song”. But there’s a reason those songs are live regulars, and you couldn’t fault the band for playing any of them, especially considering how everything else was so very new to live outings. “Coco” and “Troubled” were naturally particular crowd-pleasers, but they didn’t take away from the main purpose of the show. The set-list did seem to favor tracks off of 2003’s stellastarr*, over 2005’s Harmonies for the Haunted, which had only “Troubled” and “On My Own”.
The crowd at Highline was a mixture of older, perhaps a little too cool, artsy types, and younger, perhaps not quite cool enough, super-psyched super-fans (along with a few Long/Staten Island guys, constantly shouting for “Untitled” – a song the band specifically doesn’t like to play live…). Everyone went in knowing that they were going to get a first look at what stellastarr*’s been working on, and everyone went out knowing they couldn’t wait for a second.
stellastarr* playing "My Coco" live @ Highline Ballroom, New York, NY: