Stars of the Lid / Chris Willits Masonic Temple, Montreal QC April 29

It’s been a long six years since Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie of the cross-continental dream-drone duo Stars of the Lid last graced a Montreal stage, and if this Tuesday evening affair at the unorthodox Masonic Temple was any indication, they’ve picked up about five times more fans in the interim. Touring in the wake of the critical success that met last year’s long-awaited The Refinement of the Decline double-disc set on Kranky, SOTL settled into a roughly 500-person capacity room at a Masonic Temple that, with its backbenches and ornate portraits and woodwork, resembled the House of Lords or even parliament. Wiltzie and McBride were touring with a string section this time, a move that imbued a softer and occasionally more sentimental tone to the duo’s work, pushing their compositions closer to the Arvö Part end of the spectrum that they’ve explored more thoroughly since 2001’s Tired Sounds. SOTL circa 2008 is essentially a project at the top of its game after 13 years, and this ambitious tour — with its non-concert hall venues and full orchestration — appears to be an opportunity to present their music in a context that promotes its ethereal potential. The 70-minute set managed just that, although long-time fans of the band who had seen the last tour might have noted that the greater focus of string orchestration seems to have come at the expense of the duo’s visual accompaniment this time. Past outings have presented SOTL in live soundtracking mode, but this time around the film screen was just there, adding colour to the music. These are relatively small quibbles from an otherwise memorable show, though. Christopher Willits opened the show with a humorous and at times hypnotic presentation of what can only be described as cock rock ambience: the live processing of theatrical guitar solos into microscopic sound compositions.