The band Stars has been around since the turn of the millennium. It has released six studio albums, includiing 2012’s “The North,” and is popular in its native Canada, thanks in part to its years with the record label Arts & Crafts.
Tuesday night, Stars headlined a show at Crossroads KC, a venue large enough to hold more than 2,500 people. Fewer than 150 people attended the show, prompting vocalist Torquil Campbell to pause, gaze around the vast, mostly empty, space and wonder aloud: “Aren’t there any smaller venues in Kansas City?”
There are, and this crowd would have fit into most of them. Nonetheless, the band and its small but engaged audience made the best of a crisp and pretty early autumn evening.
Stars is an indie-pop band that draws some of its traits from several ‘80s and ‘90s bands: New Order, the Smiths, the Cure, Spandau Ballet. Campbell shares lead vocals and lays down harmonies with Amy Millan, who has her own solo career going and who has been part of the collective Broken Social Scene. Her voice at times bears resemblances to Feist, Tracey Thorn and Harriet Wheeler of the Sundays. It services the band’s bright, melodic songs, which typically are instantly appealing, whether a ballad, and dance tune (like “We Don’t Want Your Body”) or a straight-up indie-pop song.
The setlist bounced around a catalog that goes back to 2000. It included a few from “The North,” including “A Song is a Weapon,” “Backlines” and “Do You Want to Die Together”; “Elevator Love Letter,” from “Heart,” now 10 years old; “Soft Revolution” and “Your Ex-Lover is Dead” from “Set Yourself on Fire”; “We Don’t Want Your Body,” from “The Five Ghosts” and “My Favourite Book,” from “In Our Bedroom After the War.”
Throughout the 90-minute set, the band engaged the crowd with some levity and banter. Milan told a story about misreading a setlist and mistakenly dedicating a song about the loss of virginity to a member of the stage crew. And on a night when the Kansas City Royals were all but eliminated from playoff contention, keyboardist Chris Seligman, a Toronto native, coincidentally told the crowd how the Royals broke his heart in 1985 by beating his Blue Jays in the playoffs.
They closed with “The 400,” another “North” track. It’s a lovely ballad about travel and relationships and moving on. Throughout, Campbell and Milan sing, imploringly: “It has to go right this time / It has to go right.” It was the perfect incantation to end a night that was about as right is it could be. It’s too bad more people weren’t there to enjoy it.