Stars have been back for a couple of years now, yet unlike other Australian bands from the 1970s that have reformed, to call Stars a ‘heritage act’, would miss the point completely. What separates Stars from their peers is that although they honour their past, they continue to release new music that is both first-rate and significantly, contemporary. Here is a band not content to rest on past glories, and instead are continuing to add new chapters to their own story.
Stars have a current album out (2018’s Boundary Rider) and another new one due early next year. This new material is country-infused rock of the highest order which blends the classic harmonies, infectious choruses, and driving riffs into the present day. In 2019, Stars are in one word – compelling, and any time they step out onto a stage, particularly outside of their Victorian base, it’s an occasion not to be missed.
Tonight the band are in Canberra, before heading to Sydney and Newcastle for shows. In a 90 minute set, the band charge through a set consisting of material that is either from their past catalogue, off the Boundary Rider album, or are new tunes off their soon to be released album, (scheduled for a February 2020 release).
‘Back Again’ is the appropriate opener for a band who have returned to the national capital after 12 months. This sets the scene and the band quickly find top gear. Other classic tunes from the iconic Paradise and Land of Fortune albums are littered throughout the set, including ‘Jupiter Creek’, ‘West Is The Way’, ‘Land Of Fortune’ and ‘Last Of The Riverboats’. These songs are absolutely timeless, and further testament to the quality of Andy Durant’s song writing and sense of melody.
The spirit of Durant looms large – he is forever a part of this band and Mick shares anecdotes with the audience and particular songs Andy wrote. Importantly, Mal Eastick’s distinctive guitar work and Mick Pealing’s vocals continue to do these songs justice, carrying them to new audiences and new ears. ‘Oceans Deep’ continues to astound audiences with its evocative imagery and musical colours, and tonight is, again, no exception. There’s a righteousness to Andy Durant’s songs that is difficult to articulate. They are mesmerising – still.
Stars have a new album due soon – yet far too few people are aware of the current album, Boundary Rider. I can’t find enough superlatives for Boundary Rider, suffice to say that it was The Australian Rock Review’s 2018 Album of the Year. That should be all the reason you need to go check it out if you haven’t already.
Tonight, the band includes several cuts from Boundary Rider, including the superb title tune. Euphemisms abound on this one – from political change, to freedoms fought for, to the demise of a certain Australian way of life. This is sublime country-rock with a big Mick Pealing vocal, layered harmonies and soulful guitar. Also included in tonight’s set is the blues lament of ‘Drinking Alone’, the agreeable ‘Mick’s Dream’, and the redolent ‘Time Stands Still’, also known as ‘the ballad of Stars’ as it eulogises the band’s history. Superb song. From an album overflowing with potential radio friendly hits – selecting tunes from the album to include in the set can’t be easy.
Tonight’s set also included three new songs from the soon to be released new album. Highlighted by a biting riff and a big Mick Pealing vocal, ‘Big Wet Long Dry’ is epic, underscored by a driving groove and Outback imagery. If radio gets behind this, you have another antipodean anthem on your hands, ala Great Southern Land. A green tick for that one. The super catchy ‘Blue Ruin’ also cooked. Introduced as ‘a bit of a ghost story, it has that radio-friendly hook, sing along chorus and mellow west-coast vibe. What’s not to like? That makes it two from two. The third new song is ‘Driving Hungry’, an ode to the taxi driver. This is a monster tune with a big infectious chorus, melody galore and the cherry of the night for me. Country rock laced with a sharp pop edge. Hard to surpass and another winner. If these songs are representative of the new album, February can’t come soon enough.
Rhythm guitar player and song writer Nick Charles brings much to the band. His song writing, playing, harmony vocals and overall contribution is a big part of the band’s rejuvenation. The inclusion of energetic new drummer Erik Chess has given the band a new thrust, and musically, he locked in efficiently with Roger McLachlan’s bass. No slack lost here folks.
After a top notch 90 minute set, the band end proceedings with a one-two punch of ‘Mighty Rock’, and then the perpetual ‘Rocky Mountain Way’, a song that McLachlan and Eastick have well and truly made their own. This closer never fails to satisfy.
Individually, each of these guys are outstanding musos. Collectively, on stage, Stars never sounded better. And the songs – man, the songs are huge, and as I wrote at the outset – utterly compelling. As is well known, the premature passing of Andy Durant in 1980 bought Stars to a close, and curtailed the opportunity for the band’s continued success through the 1980s. Make no mistake – all these years later, this reinvigorated line up of Stars are back to show all and sundry that they are still contenders – and a force to be reckoned with – both on record and on stage. Head to starsofficial.com and get on board. You won’t be disappointed.
(c) All content Colin Gray. All images Denis Gray