Before the term 'art rock' was pinned firmly to Franz Ferdinand, New York's Stellastarr* were labelled with it, not just due to their music but also for their backgrounds. The quartet met at art college, and between them have worked in many sectors of the arts, such as painting, graphic design, and acting. Their self-titled debut album was critically acclaimed, but sales failed to recognise this, and the likes of The Killers and Interpol raced to the fore. This current tour celebrates the UK release of the record number two, "Harmonies For The Haunted".
The sombre piano line of "Lost In Time" begins proceedings in a mellow way, but allows lead singer Shawn Christensen to employ his unpredictable and dominating vocal style, but it's the punky "No Weather" that gets the crowd jumping in the tiny venue. Surprisingly recent b-side "She's Gone" is performed, but it proves to be an excellent and quirky live track that is a great build up to current single "Sweet Troubled Soul". The infectious riff played by Michael Jurin is perfectly complimented by the bass line of Amanda Tannen, who also provides swooning backing vocals. The band continues to mix their new material with crowd favourites, with all three singers creating a fantastic atmosphere on "In The Walls", while "Love And Longing" sees Christensen mounting the barrier much to the delight of the audience.
The pace of the show slows down for "On My Own", built on the solemn drumming from Arthur Kremer. A slow-tempo affair, Jurin patiently builds up the guitar line, but it is Christensen who steals the show. His vocal performance is outstanding, but his stage presence demands attention – unlike many singers, he is engulfed in the emotion of the song. If the audience failed to appreciate his efforts, "My Coco" and "Pulp Song" get them bouncing again. The encore consists of three songs, including former singles "Somewhere Across Forever" and "Jenny", but "Moongirl" is the highlight of the bunch. Practically an instrumental, Jurin proves himself to an excellent guitarist, hypnotising the crowd with his playing. A standout moment from a great performance enjoyed by band and audience, he sums it up the general mood when he announces, "It's cities like Manchester that make you want to tour the UK".