The Dears hold a special place in the hearts of many, not least Getintothis’ Del Pike who finally gets to see them after a very long wait and is not disappointed.
When The Dears released Album number two, No Cities Left in April 2003, it preceded the birth of my first child by just six days. It may have been their breakthrough album, a huge deal for the band, but to me it was the soundtrack to some very special months to come.
After waiting over fourteen years to see this incredible band, tonight finally arrived. With my daughter by my side we came, we danced and we shed a tear. Emotions ran deep.
Relegated to the smaller stage at the Academy this wasn’t how it was meant to be. We love small and intimate but The Dears deserve a bigger stage and better sound, surely. Time will tell.
We arrived at an unreasonably early 6.45 to find Tom Low and co, under the guise of TV ME tuning up to an empty room, this didn’t bode well. After ten minutes of “one two”-ing into the mic Tom peers into the dark and asks, “How many of you are out there?” “Five” comes the sorrowful and honest reply.
The band soldier on. A sampled voice crackles out “TV Me is filmed in front of a live TV audience”, “Not tonight though”, sighs Tom as they launch into the set.
It’s the usual psychedelic swirl of Sgt Pepper style tunes that Low’s band do so well, never quite cohesively fitting into a concept, but setting the scene of a summers day in the late 60s. As each of the three band members swap instruments including Low’s Hofner bass a la Macca, the sound becomes increasingly discordant. Often it becomes jarring, but more often the cosmic leaps from one style to another recall Giant Steps era Boo Radleys.
New single Peppercorn Boy is impressive. Set closer Balloons reaches a crescendo and we forget that they have basically just played a set to an empty room, fair play.
A few more have wandered in during TV ME’s set, and Wide Eyed Boy step up to the challenge. We are immediately intrigued by the atmospheric Cure sound that emanates from the stage. The first song becomes less interesting when vocalist Oli Nagy, starts to sing. He’s got a great voice, no doubt about that, those times spent at Lipa where the band formed were not wasted, but the initial tunes are more interesting than the full-blown songs.
As the short set unfolds the songs improve and Nagy’s stage presence becomes more entertaining, like Jesus in a groovy shirt. Wolves is massively dramatic and Nagy strikes some impressive shapes as he intones with heavy breaths. It gets a bit Mighty Boosh on occasion. New single Loving you is so easy is the clear belter of the set, channelling Mansun’s Paul Draper at times, no bad thing.
The moment arrives as The Dears set up their gear. Seeing vocalist Murray Lightburn set up his own kit is surreal, in this writer’s eyes this man is legend. A final crowd of about thirty stand in silence as he unpacks his guitar and plugs it in. They leave the stage and Kajagoogoo’s Too shy cuts off abruptly, replaced by Nico’s haunting Chelsea Girl.
The band, a five piece in this incarnation, silently return to the stage as Nico fades out.
Lightburn turns his back on the audience and his wife, the ice cool Natalia Yanchak takes centre stage breathing the lyrics to Taking to the Grave into the mic. They have to be the coolest couple in showbiz, she with her sharp cut white bob and Catwoman black outfit, he similarly dressed in black suit with Ray Charles shades, Dudes both.
The set continues with tracks from their most recent album, Times Infinity Volume Two, and they are played with passion and verve. The trademark Morrissey / Albarn motifs are lost in the mix as the songs are much heavier live.
You and I are a Gang of Losers, from the Gang of Losers album is the first dip into the back catalogue tonight and again, this is much heavier than on record, but bursting with emotional energy.
It’s fascinating to see this couple in such harmony, and I am ashamed to admit that I was unaware of how equal both are on stage, until now. Natalia’s facial expressions show absolute commitment to the lyrics and she appears close to tears at times.
Who are you, Defenders of the Universe? And 22: The Death of all the Romance, two key tracks from No Cities Left provide the first real emotional high of the night. The crowd may be thin but they are mad for it. One guy pogos alone at the front, extortionately priced beer spilling everywhere, a woman sways in a trance behind us, whilst another seems to be grabbing invisible golden tickets like she’s made it to the end of The Crystal Maze. The Dears have weaved a spell.
The jagged staccato of Whites Only Party breaks the spell and everyone is dancing. The intimate gig vibe has reached its peak and it feels very special.
There is a lengthy return to newer material from Infinity Times Volumes One and Two, leaving little time for old favourites. 1998 stands out with its Whites Only Party revisited backbeat.
Disclaimer from the overlooked Missiles album makes an appearance and the heavily blur inspired Hate then Love from Gang of Losers, both great songs. Lost in the Plot closes the set, the song that started my 14-year love affair with the band. One of the all-time great indie singles of the early noughties, and their most played live song, deservedly so. The audience goes wild including Hannah and me and it’s one of those ridiculously special moments, right there, that only live music can bring.
The band leave and after much begging Lightburn returns alone and delivers a staggeringly beautiful acoustic version of There Goes My Outfit from Gang of Losers. It would have been great to have heard more quieter songs delivered in this way as he has a chilling way of delivering lyrics when not raising the roof.
Disappointed that Ticket to Immortality didn’t make an appearance, one of the absolute best songs in their canon, but delighted otherwise, we leave, completely satisfied.
It was worth the wait and I’m so glad I took my daughter. A half empty room means very little when the impact of live music can have a personal effect on folk. There was a magic in the room tonight for a lot of people, you could feel it, undeniable. Keep going to gigs, and keep taking the ones you hold dear.
Images by Getintothis’ Warren Millar