The last time The Stills were on tour in this country was when they were opening for New Mexico popsters The Shins. This was back in April, when the sublime Changes Are No Good was circulating around alternative music circles. In what was billed as a double headlining tour was in effect a support slot for this Montreal four piece, who hypnotised audiences with short, breathtaking performances.
Their moody yet extremely melodic craftings brought a whole new meaning to the so called ‘wall of sound’, something that so many bands strive so hard to create. Comparisons to Interpol and The Cure were justified, and their debut album Logic Will Break Your Heart excited critics the width and breadth of the country. A big headline show in the capital was long overdue, so what better time to arrange one then on the eve of their Glastonbury slot?
The lights go down and drummer Dave Hamelin appears on stage, immediately firing into the introduction to debut single Lola Stars And Stripes. The rest of the band arrive on stage one by one, and as soon as the bass line kicks in the anticipation level rises to breaking point. There’s something wrong with Tim Fletcher’s voice though; he’s not singing normally, he’s out of time and out of tune. His voice is replaced with a peculiar drawl, and it’s quite frankly not too easy on the ear.
This shift in acoustics doesn’t suit them, and you get the feeling that perhaps over indulgence back stage prior to the gig is beginning to manifest itself. Admittedly, Fletcher does find some rhythm as the gig progresses, but one can’t help notice that there’s something slightly off with The Stills tonight. For a start, they’re playing their album in track order (Surely half the excitement of a gig is not knowing what’s coming next?), and they’re prolonging songs with inane, self indulgent drum sequences.
The thing is their music isn’t quite the riotous rock ‘n’ roll of The Libertines or Razorlight, where no one notices the odd misplaced chord or lack of tune – The main strength of this band is their melody, so when they lose that, they sound terribly flat, as is the case for much of tonight.
There are a few high points that hold things together: Gender Bombs is always a highlight of a Stills gig and the stunning Allison Krausse is stepped up a few notches with Fletcher’s aggressive vocals taking the lead. The catchy hooks of Ready For It serve to remind us why we fell in love with this band all those months ago, and Yesterday Never Tomorrows is as beautifully poignant as ever.
Make no mistake, along with Las Vegas bunch The Killers, The Stills are one of the most exciting things to happen to alternative music for quite a while. It’s just that they’ve used this gig as a frivolous celebration of this fact, and the joke is quite clearly on the audience.