WHO? Northwestern’s own French Horn Rebellion (myspace here) and Canadian rockers Stars (myspace here.)
WHERE? Norris East Lawn.
WHEN? April 20th, 2008 from 3 to 6 p.m.
HOW MUCH? Totally free!
WHY?Northwestern’s One Voice, with some help from A&O, plus the Student Activities Fund, NUnite, NU Alumni Association, and Asian-American Student Affairs (so says this Daily article) sponsored the event to raise human trafficking awareness.
WAIT, WHO AGAIN?: Check out the in-depth coverage of French Horn Rebellion and a recap of Stars’ entire career elsewhere on NBN.
I arrive thirty minutes past three, and French Horn Rebellion is doing a sound check. The sun shines, the air is cool and crisp. A platform has been set up on the east lawn of Norris — a bulwark of speakers, black structural piping and an elaborate light system.
French Horn Rebellion genuinely surprises me. For some reason, I thought I didn’t like FHR, but I now think that’s because I hadn’t heard them before. The beat behind every song is juicy and fat, something you could sink your teeth into, drunk and sweating on a dance floor. The melodies are sunny and light, too. A lot of “electronic” bands could certainly never survive the harsh light of day, but the band seems to welcome to outdoor atmosphere. With a nod to 420, the band asks if people want to be taken to another place, and tell the audience that the next song, “takes you to an island in the Pacific Ocean, with steely sailors.” Charged with a cheerful energy, the band seems to enjoy the weather just as much as the audience. A couple of songs in, the vocalist (I’m guessing Music senior Robert Perlick-Molinari from the information on French Horn Rebellion’s contraption-filled website) takes to the field during an extended jam, catching hi-fives from fans and generally frolicking. One Voice shirts get tossed out liberally, and no one hides behind their instruments. There are a few abortive attempts at dancing by a few girls in bug-eye sunglasses who finally succumb to embarrassment. Girls, I was rooting for you to keep dancing.
I huddle in a room on the second floor of Norris fixing my camera while the band leaves the stage. During the transition, the MCs talk up raffle tickets available by donation, and a representative from Chicago asks audience members to pledge to keep children from getting exploited; many chant the pledge in response.
By the time I get back outside with working camera in hand, the audience has grown. Soft rubber balls make their way over the crowds. Frisbee players entangle themselves in the rest of the masses. A steady stream of inflated condoms bounce lazily over the largely unsuspecting audience, interrupted by sudden revelations as people notice what is floating around. The crowd members seem significantly more attractive than at the average Northwestern gathering. Perhaps there are some members of the Chicago community here. The East Lawn is a great concert venue — the monolith that is Norris provides shade and the ground slopes up away from the stage so everyone can see. Notably absent are the droves of 420 stoner stereotypes I was expecting. I miss the acrid scent of furtive concert joints like I miss friends from high school, but this is on Northwestern’s grounds.
When Stars takes the stage, it’s a little chillier than before. A few brave souls sit right in front of the stage, and when the band starts with “Take Me to the Riot,” there aren’t any vocals. Before the audio difficulties are taken care of, a crowd three or four ranks deep gathers in front of the stage.
And well they should gather, but I can’t fault the people who stayed sitting either. Stars’ performance is the best outdoor show I’ve seen. The band sounds natural and balanced, and the extra volume isn’t punishing, even for the people leaning against the front rails. The set list relies heavily on the new album, In Our Bedroom After the War, and sticks to its strong points. Amy Millan’s voice is just as haunting live as it is on the albums, and Torquil Campbell accompanies his wry vocals with horn and synths. Both of their faces are expressive, reflect the music and make it seem real, cutting away the melodrama that can become cloying after a few listens. “My Favourite Book” stands out as one of the best songs on the new album, and Millan’s delivery is playful and luxuriant.
Flowers wreath the band: Roses wrapped around mic stands, bouquets cluttering Pat McGee’s drum set, and keyboardist Chris Seligman flanked on either side by rushes of color. Millan launches flowers into the crowd at regular intervals; she throws like a girl, failing to clear the edge of the stage three times in a row near the end of the concert. Bassist Evan Cranley looks like a jazz impresario from another decade. I really like his soul patch. I know people have probably told him to shave it off — stay strong, dude!
As the show goes on, the crowd at the front of the stage steadily grows. Millan and Campbell take a few opportunities to banter: During one exchange about Lake Michigan, Campbell unleashes a rip on Millan of the sort of bone-biting intensity that’s usually reserved for shit-talking behind someone’s back or with close blood-relations. Millan seems totally unphased. This is obviously a band with some serious chemistry. Other banter deas with the general lack of enthusiasm of the German music lover, complete with German accents (Campbell’s has a great lisp). During the encore, there’s a Smiths cover that I don’t recognize, and Campbell says the Smiths were “the greatest rock band.” (Don’t tell anybody, but I don’t listen to much of the Smiths). “Your Ex-Lover is Dead” gets by far the most audience response — the crowd is the thickest of the afternoon, timorously singing along.
The show ends at 6 p.m. sharp. I bet not too many people leave disappointed. The show went smoothly, the bands were great, the weather was nice, it was totally free and it was all for a good cause. Thank you, One Voice, A&O and all the show’s sponsors. I hope a lot of good was done in the fight against human trafficking, and I wouldn’t mind having my awareness raised more often if it’s going to be just as awesome.
Check out more here.