The Dears’ 90-minute set flew by, probably because most of it was spent in excited anticipation, waiting for Murray Lightburn’s inevitable burst of massive, gut-wrenching vocals.
Oh, that voice. It’s not that the veteran Montreal band don’t have songs; they really do. It’s just that a voice like this is always going to dominate. He uses it in the much the same way as the band drafts its set list – “punishment, reward, punishment, reward,” Lightburn laughs, referring to their decision to interweave fan favourites from their back catalogue with tracks from their new album – flitting between using his voice to minimal effect, sounding almost ordinary before creeping up to that moment you just know is coming. It’s really quite exhausting.
Tonight’s the end of a European tour – and their first London gig for over six years. The show’s almost sold out, which would suggest that despite being neglected so, they still have an unwavering fan base over here. And while they might whoop loudest at tracks from their second album, No Cities Left, Times Infinity Volume One – their latest release – is a just reward for that dedication.
First released back in September 2015, it took 18 months to secure a UK release, which must have been a frustrating wait for the band, as it’s a record that sees them revitalised and finally back on track. Following the peak of the afore mentioned breakthrough record – which saw them pitted as future superstars – they sort of plateaued. Nice records, more of the same. Times Infinity Volume One, however, is a frantic, emotional treat. It’s got a post-apocalyptic urgency; it’s devastatingly sad, at times unsettling but, like the very best points of No Cities Left, it’s also uplifting and fragile, with some beautifully tender moments, not least during the duets between Lightburn and wife Natalia Yanchuk.
Tonight they lay their cards on the table from the moment they enter the stage, launching into We Lost Everything, with its menacing opening: “There was a warning”, all choppy guitars and sci-fi effects. It’s like a dead serious Muse or a venomous Bloc Party. Equally, I Used To Pray For The Heavens To Open is massive and looming, with its refrain: “Whose side are you on?”, which has greater clarity and is far more intense on the live stage.
One of the night’s highlights though, isn’t Lightburn’s bellowing…it’s the Onward and Downward – which sees Yanchuk lead the way with the bitter sweet looping line: “In the end one will die alone, “ delivered with far more subtlety than the rest of the set. The result is devastating.
Back catalogue tracks like 5 Chords and Lost In The Plot still rule the set, but alongside their newer material they sound fresh and urgent; this could be a band of east end newcomers, showing off in front of a crowd of potential downloaders, rather than a 20-year-old band on what many will be enjoying as something of a ‘come back’ gig.
A lengthy encore sees Lightburn perform the bulk of the closing songs solo, peaking with There Goes My Outfit – when he moves away from the microphone for a singalong with the crowd; a moment of pin-drop intimacy as his voice echoes around the relatively spacious Shoreditch arches.
The intervening years might not have propelled them to the heights of that other Montreal husband and wife band, but tonight, and their latest record, suggests a renaissance might be due. And with Times Infinity Volume Two due this year, momentum might be in their favour.