You can say a lot of things about The Dears, but no one can claim that they don't give 100%. If it were not physically impossible to give 110%, I'm sure they would've done that. Murray Lightburn sings and plays his heart out, sweating like a maniac, and the rest of the band (godlike drummer George Donoso and guitarist Patrick Krief in particular) play as if their lives depended on it.
It's all about heart, I think. Murray didn't indulge in stage banter until the extended dub jam encore "Postcards from Purgatory," when he basically stated this. "We are sometimes a cheesy lot, The Dears. But it's no bullshit. We believe it. This is real. And we love each and every one of you." And the crowd went wild. There is a connection between The Dears and their audiences that you don't see a whole lot anymore, apart from Andrew WK or Morrissey.
I half-invoked the laziest criticism lobbed against the Dears: Smiths comparisons. While no doubt a huge influence, they don't sound like the Smiths and Lightburn doesn't sound like Moz. If anything, Damon Alban is the more apt vocal influence, but he has since overcome those crutches. The man is a superstar his own right. (Actually, my friend Kevin said "the man is a pornstar" after seeing them in June 2005 and meant it in the best possible way.) There is no doubt about it when you see The Dears live.
The starpower even comes across loud-and-clear when they're having an off night, which was the case Tuesday. There were problems with the mix (Kreif's guitar wasn't loud enough; Murray's sparingly-used "keytar" had the opposite problem); clams were thrown by just about everyone at one point or another; and keyboardist and new mom Natalia seemed annoyed for the first half of the show.
But no matter, the emotion showed through it carried through the odd
setlist that began with four new songs (including opener "Ticket to
Immortality" which seems like a wrong choice as a first single, too),
then switched to No Cities Left's greatest hits which got the crowd amped. Then they switched to the really good stuff off Gang of Losers which absolutely killed. I guess they just needed to get warmed up.
The show wasn't sold out, but it was close, and those who were there ate it up like drunks to poutine. One guy, who stood right behind my left ear, was singing along loudly to every word. I moved back a few rows to avoid him, which also allowed me to take in the stage spectacle all at once.
It was at this point they played "You and I are a Gang of Losers." This was The Dears' show-opener for most of 2005 and I was convinced that when they finally recorded it it would make them famous. But it loses something in the studio version, though maybe if it gets a single mix (it needs punching up) for radio it still could happen. But at Bowery Ballroom it brought down the house again. Maybe it's the slow build, but it's just a knockout.
There was a young couple in front of me, maybe 21-22, who looked like they'd hitchhiked to the show (probably not). Anyway, about a minute into the song they grabbed onto one another, staring in each others eyes... until they both started crying. I thought something was wrong but then they just started making out. I'm convinced it was the song. "Gang of Losers," with its refrain of "Our love, don't mess with our love" has such a strong romantic Us vs. The World vibe, I think it just has that affect on people. They should get James Cameron to direct the video, have it star a beautiful young couple and just have the world blow up around them while they make out.Or some other romantic, yet post-apocalyptic treatment.
Post-apocalyptic romantic pop. I think that is what The Dears do. Is that a genre?
Ticket to Immortality
Death or Life We Want You
Lost in the Plot
The Second Part
Never Destroy Us
We Can Have It
22: Death of all the Romance
Fear Made the World Go Round
You and I are a Gang of Losers
There Goes My Outfit
Hate Then Love
Postcard from Purgatory
I Fell Deep
Openers were Australian trio The Grates who whose brand of early-'90s indie rock is nice, if nothing special to these ears, and at times made me think of PJ Harvey, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Pixies, Nirvana and, uh, Daisy Chainsaw. Live, however, they are much more endearing thanks to very pretty singer Patience Hodgson... who loses any ounce of sexiness the second she starts dancing and jumping around.
Which she does constantly. Prone to akward knee kicks and limp-wristed arm swaying, it's as if she learned to dance by watching '80s Jazzercize videos or old episodes of Romper Room. (You know...the Grates would probably make a good Pre-K party band.) This might be embarrassing to watch if Hodgson and the rest of the band weren't genuinely having such a good time and her enthusiasm is infectious. She even pulled out a ribbon-on-a-stick (like in Olympic Rythym Gymnastics) for one song that, again, worked when it shouldn't. I still have little interest in their album, Gravity Won't Get You High, but I'd go see them again.