As a green 17-year-old I attended an interview for a place at university. Noting Maths and English were among my A levels the interviewer asked, “Have you found any common ground between science and art?” Had I been aware of Stars of the Lid in 1997 I might not have given such an awful answer (I just looked scared and said no).
The stage at tonight’s gig is a scientific wonder. An enormous vertical mixing desk sprouts a tangle of wires, like a sound engineer’s tribute to all the beards in the audience. Yet the first performers on to the stage are a string quartet – a hint at the high-art credentials of what follows.
This is an affecting evening from the moment the lights drop. Billowing dry ice places the performers somewhere up in the clouds… and the sound begins. A motif of Stars of the Lid is the rise and fall. Slow, pulsing chords repeat in patterns that initially seem regular but are actually evolving like the changing seasons. No beats, no vocals. This is music – art – to lose yourself in, to encourage reflection, meditation and, apparently, deep devotion. It’s nearly ten years since the release of the last Stars of the Lid studio album and this is a sold out gig in a town far from their homeland.
Where is that homeland, by the way?
“It’s good to be back in the West,” says Brian McBride, one of the band’s core members, sounding distinctly eastern-European. McBride is in fact a Texan; maybe the accent is an aural hallucination, which would at least fit with the dreamlike mood of the night. As the next song, ‘December Hunting for Vegetarian Fuckface’, offers up more psychotropic, slow-motion thrusting it’s too much for a gentleman stood next to me. Initially I think he’s fainted, but on closer inspection he appears to have been slain in the spirit. I kneel to help him, but the Stars of the Lid faithful who surround us are unmoved. Maybe at this church this is just what happens.
As the overcome gentleman crawls to the side of the room (he was fine) I contemplate the potential for music to move its audience. Then the song ends and the room is awoken to sing happy birthday to one of the violinists. It’s an odd and, if we’re being honest, unwelcome note of smiling normality. Thankfully there is further opportunity for frowning contemplation as the lights drop and the next round of glorious hypnosis begins.
Words: Dan Farmer