The Stills’ 2003 debut, Logic Will Break Your Heart, was one of the best albums to come out of Montreal in the last few years, and that’s saying quite a bit. Still In Love Song alone should have been enough to make them household names. Since then, the Stills’ founder, Greg Paquet, has left the band and a keyboardist and a new drummer have been added and their second album coming is due in May.
Thus this second night of their current tour was a bit of a test to see if The Stills still had some of the magic that blew away a Philly crowd a couple of years ago. The verdict? This is still a very good band, although the newer garage-like sound lacks the more sublime moments found on their debut.
It seamed odd that old Sabbath was playing over the PA before a Stills show (not to mention in a church basement) but it was actually a prelude to the opening act, retro-rockers The Sam Roberts Band. Also from Montreal, Roberts’ crew are a solid five-man unit that looks like the band from the film Almost Famous and plays a similar, ’70s-influenced guitar rock, with some Deep Purple-ish sounding keyboards. They’re an interesting band (Roberts apparently started out as a violinist) and some of the guitar jams were excellent.
The Stills opened with some of their new songs, including In The Beginning and The Mountain. Along with the keyboards, they sounded perhaps a bit like newer-Doves-gone-garage, instead of a warmer and more stylish Joy Division as they have sounded previously.
The newer stuff – well over half of the 85 minute set – was good, if not inspiring. The new focus seems to be on guitarist Dave Hamelin singing, but the songs and his vocals, in general, all seemed a bit too subdued. There wasn’t much of a comparison to the older songs, particularly when singer-guitarist Tim Fletcher steps to the mic and the band is able to take it to another, transcendent level (Still In Love Song, Logic Will Break Your Heart).
Fletcher has a great, almost-anguished-but-upbeat sound that any emo frontman would kill for. At times his voice was enhanced to nice effect with an echo chamber, as well. The newer songs don’t seem to accommodate that sound and I would guess that it might have something to do with the loss of Paquet’s guitar work. The sound/production for the night was not particularly great, either (which they may have even acknowledged, at one point): one song, Helicopter, was just plain off. My guitarist friend added that he didn’t think that the guitars sounded as clean on the songs from the debut, either.
Nonetheless, it was still a good show, overall. An extended version of the stellar Still In Love Song was the centrepiece of the set and they closed with the excellent Love And Death, which Hamelin sings incredibly well. I will certainly give their new stuff another try when it comes out, they still have tons of promise.
One final note, The First Unitarian Church has become a great venue for Philadelphia, allowing R5 Productions to regularly put on all-ages shows in a church basement with high ceilings, often with outstanding acts (Arctic Monkeys, Yeah Yeah Yeahs), room for a couple of hundred people – and usually for $8-10. Great deal – just watch the swearing.