Just out of the studio, The Stills left the Big Apple anything but when they rocked the city with material old and new. Having just finished recording their (as of yet still untitled) third full-length, the Montreal rockers have been heading down the East Coast for a handful of dates before landing at Austin for South by Southwest. The Canadian band that got its start in New York returned ‘home’ with a bombastic set that excited the sold-out crowd at Bowery Ballroom (QRO venue review) on March 8th.
The Stills have experienced some major changes since they were first in New York, losing guitarist Greg Paquet to Concordia University (and songwriter Dave Hamelin stepping up to the axe from behind the drums), leaving the once-major Vice Records for Toronto super-indie imprint, Arts & Crafts. The band’s sound changed remarkably from full-length 2003 debut Logic Will Break Your Heart to 2006’s Without Feathers. But the show at Bowery was less another change than a sum of The Stills parts, past, present, and future.
Despite this being a ‘preview tour’ of the third record, The Stills opened things up with their established material, only getting to the new stuff about a third of the way in. The band’s Without Feathers live favorite, “Oh Shoplifter” started things on a strong build, really a step above its performance on record. From there, the band went into a Logic triptych, starting with the record’s ‘hit single’, “Still In Love Song”. It was nice to see that the band, despite all the changes they’ve undergone, doesn’t shy away from their top old material (just don’t ask them to play “Allison Krausse”…). While that piece certainly lit up the crowd, it was almost overshadowed by the band’s Logic live favorites, the expansive, emotional “Gender Bombs” and “Of Montreal”. Their new live favorite, Feathers’s wryly upbeat “Destroyer” took a step up like “Shoplifter”, as it lead into the new material.
The intro of established work definitely warmed up the audience to the fresher material, but you could almost say The Stills didn’t need to. The harder rock of “Eastern Europe” laid down the line the band was going to follow with their new stuff, and the crowd didn’t need to have their hand held to grasp it. “Being Here” was expansive, even anthemistic, a hallmark that the group has kept throughout all their work. They tipped back into the past for Logic’s “Lola Stars & Stripes”, with the American crowd singing along to the Canadian act. But the next two new pieces were just as fine, “Don’t Talk Down” a rollicking ride, especially in keyboardist Liam O’Neill’s keys, and “Snake-Charming The Masses” (featured on their website) a dark drive out into the storm that’s a-comin’.
Yet The Stills can still surprise, and so they did with maybe the least expected old song, “Killer Bees”, from their debut Rememberese EP – but the audience clapped right along with ‘em. Mixing old and new one-to-one, the timeline jumped forward with their ‘song about the tea [guitarist/singer] Tim Fletcher has been drinking a lot of lately’, “Rooibos”. The South African red tea delivered an alt-road drive with twang that actually felt fitting with its press. And like the circle of life, The Stills ended with “In The Beginning”, Without Feathers’s growing opener that the band can play at any point in the set. For their encore return, these Québécois hit up the Yankee crowd with a song in French, “Retour A Vega” (from the Wicker Park Soundtrack – a record far better than the movie that it accompanies); despite its Gaullist heritage, the piece was some relaxed country-fun. And the group ended the night on what really matters, the expansive, Ballroom-filling power of Logic’s “Love & Death”.
The Stills have suffered some of the slings and arrows of fate, but have rocked and rollicked with the times to come out stronger for it. Now, they’re able to add it all up into something more.