2017 has been a very good year to be a Dears fan in the U.K. Not only have the band released two magnificent albums (Times Infinity Volumes One & Two), but they have toured the U.K. twice.
A huge bonus to fans attending the show was the addition of Annie Hart to the evening’s bill. The Au Revoir Simone woman turned in a spellbinding performance drawn largely from her recent solo album Impossible Accomplice. Beginning with the mesmerizing ‘On The Way Down’, Hart began solo before bringing out Drew Citron (from Beverly) to add drums and bass (not simultaneously!) to her set. ‘Run To You’ was another highlight, Hart totally engaging the audience and hopefully winning a few new fans along the way.
So, to The Dears. The Canadian band, formed in the mid-1990s by Murray Lightburn and Natalia Yanchak, have a longstanding reputation as an intense live act. The new album’s opener ‘Taking It To The Grave’ kicks things off with Yanchak’s vocals taking lead, being joined partway through by Lightburn. As on the album, it is a considered start, which builds to a crescendo and is the perfect start to proceedings. Times Infinity Volume One‘s lead single, the extraordinary ‘I Used To Pray For The Heavens To Fall’ is thrown in early and showcases the emotional depth that the band are renowned for. Lightburn as ever pours his heart and soul into the performance from start to finish.
The first of four tracks from the band’s 2003 breakthrough album No Cities Left, ‘Who Are You, Defenders Of The Universe?’ follows and keeps the bar high. The new stuff sounds immense, particularly a run through the upbeat ‘Of Fisticuffs’, which could be a new Dears anthem in the making.
‘Disclaimer’ on its parent album (2008’s Missiles) is a lush, saxophone-led delight; tonight it is represented with an incendiary, though (relatively) stripped-back reading.
Gang Of Losers, potentially the band’s most commercially successful record, provides a trio of well-received songs: ‘Whites Only Party’ leads the way, (a stomping version it is too), and is joined by ‘Hate Then Love’ and a touching ‘You And I Are A Gang Of Losers’.
‘Lost In The Plot’ is the band’s signature tune and sounds absolutely mighty, the band raising the intensity yet another notch, Lightburn’s impassioned vocals again demonstrating that he throws himself wholeheartedly into each show. As he explains in the encore, the thought of the ‘Baby Murray’ of 20 years ago coming to play a gig in Oxford would be just a crazy dream.
For that encore, Lightburn emerges solo and begins the journey through the devastating ‘The Second Part’ solo, and such is the audience’s rapt attention, the creak of the stage door can be heard as the rest of the band creep on to complete the song in dramatic fashion.
’22: The Death Of All The Romance’, with excellent vocal interplay between Yanchak and Lightburn brings the curtain down on another memorable performance.
When The Dears are on form there are very few bands who can get anywhere near them. And The Dears are always on form.