The Stills – Desmet Studios, Amsterdam, September 11, 2004

A little bit of radical European flavor within the groundwork of North American conservatism

A little bit of radical European flavor within the groundwork of North American conservatism


For far too long the world has been under the impression that Canadians are good-hearted people who live happy and healthy lives. The truth is, lost in the superficial smile of happy diversity, there is a seedy undertone of melancholy longing that aches at the soul of every Canadian that’s had a dream. Mostly, this has been expressed in the desire to escape, with the eventual drug-addled downfalls of some of Canada’s greatest talents manifesting themselves only when they leave the confines of their quiet Canadian upbringing.


However, it seems that with every passing day a new band arrives from the Great White North to show that it is no longer just with American glory behind them that they step forward into the rock and roll ether. The same vast emotional emptiness that had allowed band such as The Cure and The Smiths to blow out and connect with disenfranchised youth the world over has now produced an army of talented musicians ready to lay claim on the youth of today. Perhaps it is this return to rock’s tattered roots that has laid the groundwork for the rise of a new crop of fresh bands.


These bands have grown up on a steady diet of psychedelic rock, late 80s English new romance, politically-conscious folk, and the idea that the perfect emotive rock song has yet to be written. Add to that a seedy mix of drinking, smoking, and valium laced with ecstasy, and you get a recipe for glorious disaster.  Therefore I shall, in a fit of NME-style mockery, dub this new musical movement The Rebirth of Romance (take that Autumn of Doom!).


Leading this rebirth are three bands that epitomize the manifesto on which it stands. The first; Broken Social Scene, are the elders of the bunch, what you would call a Toronto supergroup. Their sound is a flowing tide of musical cool. The result of many late night jams, they encompass the spirit of togetherness and musical community which nurtures the creative spirit on which it relies.


Next are Montreal’s The Dears. This band bares their naked souls to the world in a manner which can rip you apart and entrap you in a vacuum of self-loathing and then spit you out barren and emotionally cleansed. They provide the emotional zeal to convert the masses.


Finally, we reach The Stills. The all-out flashiest of the bunch, they provide the pretty face, but also produce the catchiest songs. Combining a freewheeling style with rigorous songwriting, they create music loaded with cerebrally poignant ideals but wrapped in the accessible package of a dark pop song.



Thus it was that, mere months after Broken Social Scene graced its lowered stage, The Stills would make their Amsterdam debut at the intimately jazzy confines of Desmet studios. The night had, admittedly, been marred by the absence of its original headliners. Clinic, those costumed purveyors of psychedelic anthems, had cancelled in the eleventh hour, leaving the lesser known freshmen all on their own. However, as soon as the band quietly crept up on stage and thrashed into recent single Lola Stars and Stripes, there was little doubt that the young Montrealers could hold their own.


Often outspoken about their political views, they let their music do most of the talking for once. Relying heavily on melodic rock, while flirting with a bit of psychedelia, The Stills seem to reflect their hometown well; a little bit of radical European flavor within the groundwork of North American conservatism. Excluding overzealous jams in favour of short bursts of organ and heavily delayed guitar, The Stills moved as a tight unit. The effect was a satisfying stage show that seemed well planned and executed in a manner that, much like a good tracklisting for an album, never seems to let the audience dwell on a single emotion.


Sprinkling spacier numbers such as Ready For It in with the tempered fury of Fevered, it was clear that The Stills were anything but green. In fact, in light of their well publicized pseudo-intellectual rhetoric, it wouldn’t surprise me if the whole night was well planned and timed.


Bookending the main set list with their singles, the band flawlessly led the audience through their epic journey of poetic prose mixed with smart and savvy musical backing, ending off with the perennial crowd-pleaser, Still In Love Song. Sure it’s arrogant to name check your band in your lead (and third) single, but when the song is this infectious it hardly seems worthy of mention. Blaring their Opus Grande to harmonious perfection, the band left the stage to somewhat underwhelming applause.


When they returned, the result was a looser Stills. Perhaps escaping their encaged storyline, they seemed to lose their tight grip on Killer Bees before entirely letting go on closer Yesterday. Getting off the drums and letting it rip, lead songwriter Dave Hamelin jumped into the singer’s position while the band was given a steady prerecorded backbeat to play the typically Strokesian song through, before, one by one, they left the stage to mute awe.


Sure they’re another ‘The’ band, sure they fell in with the Interpol set, sure they’re outspoken about their intellectualisms, but if you take all that away, you still get some of the most innovative melancholy pop out there today.


It seems the future of music is painted not with stars and stripes, but rather with a Maple Leaf.  Long Live The Rebirth of Romance!


Words : Jon Dekel

Photos: Jon’s Mate