It might be smaller than the venues they’re used to playing, but there’s a distinct feeling of triumph about The Dears tonight, and deservedly so.
For a band who have spent the last seven years trying, and failing, to produce something that lived up to their break through album, it looked like all was lost. That album, 2004′s No Cities Left, captured the imagination of fans tired of the testosterone-fuelled garage rock that was littering record shop shelves. Singer Murray Lightburn’s poetic, heart-wrenching and staggeringly wide ranging voice harked back to the kookier outskirts of britpop and the intelligent, melodic realms of ’80s indie. They were a band to get excited about. But then…nothing. Its follow-ups, Gang of Losers and Missiles were forgettable. So forgettable, in fact, that the band went on an extended hiatus after their last release in 2008.
But then came Degeneration Street. An album we gave four-and-a-half-stars and hailed as a “staggering record”, it honed in on their most melodic moments to produce some of their impressive songs to date.
So, back from the dead, and with something to prove, there’s no time for messing about tonight, at the first of two sold out shows at The Borderline. Opening with a succession of tracks from their latest album, Thrones is first up and from the off-set it’s clear they mean business. A bold, New Order-ish song that blends into the background of Degeneration Street, tonight’s version is flecked with bonkers effects and the Canadians are already playing like their life depends on it.
The brilliantly uplifting, stadium-anthem-in-waiting 5 Chords is next, followed by Blood, a menacing Auteurs-esque track that builds up into a crescendo Muse would kill for. It sees Lightburn at his best; venomous and almost confrontational, but completely besotted with his audience. “It’s tight in here…I love it!” he beams, before marvelling at the fact that he can abandon his microphone and still speak to those at the back of the room.
The feeling’s completely mutual and there’s an exchange of banter throughout the packed, sweaty gig. From correcting Lightburn (“It’s been four years since we were in London” “No, three!”) to a particularly British reaction to the wonderful Lost In The Plot (“That’s a fucking blindin’ song, mate!”) the audience is relishing their return as much they are.
All but a couple of songs are lifted from No Cities Left and Degeneration Street; the rest (including Gang Of Losers’ Hate Then Love) are referred to by Lightburn as “obscure classics”, perhaps acknowledging the indifference with which they were originally met.
Lightburn begins the encore alone, for an acoustic version of The Second Part, before he’s joined by his band who bring it to a blisteringly noisy close. This is followed by “The all time classic – half-a-million hits on YouTube”, The Death Of All Romance. Like everything they’ve done tonight, Lightburn’s duet with wife Natalia Tanchak is a little bit harder, more passionate and urgent than before.
If they were out to prove something, they’ve more than achieved it. A brilliant gig from a band who are back on top.