The Dears at St. James United Church, Montreal, QC, 31 January, 2009 – Show Review

February 3, 2009
By
Gig/Concert: The Dears with Every Kid Choir
Venue: St. James United Church, Montreal, QC (map)
Date: 31 January, 2009
Headliners: The Dears
In
one word:
Blasphemy!

Joining the ranks of Billy Bragg, Geoff Berner and Eivor Palsdottir in the file of bands I’ve heard in a church are Montreal locals The Dears, playing at St. James United in support of not only their latest album Missiles, but also the Every Kid Choir. The EKC is a non-denominational open choir that performs a variety of songs and instruments, open to kids from all faiths and backgrounds who have a desire to sing but would otherwise not have an opportunity.

The acoustics are stellar, the venue is unique, and the mood is way more conducive to actually checking out different acts than most bars – less chatting, and fewer obnoxious drunks. Key word here is “fewer”, not “no.” Me, I usually bring about forty bucks to shows, for beer and/or merch, and out of habit I did so for this show, forgetting where I was going to be spending the evening. (“Oh yeah…”) I notice that someone else apparently figured their way around this, as a guy a couple rows ahead of me has to remove his flask from his back pocket so that he could sit down comfortably. Dude, really?

Waiting for the show to go on, I get to indulge in a favourite churchgoing pastime: checking out what other people are really doing. For now there’s just the guy with the flask, and not much else, until I see Dears’ lead singer Murray Lightburn heading down the aisle. I think nothing of it until shortly after, when the lights dim and the EKC kids shuffle back onstage. They’re singing and swaying slowly, bringing back all sorts of Charlie Brown memories as Lightburn’s voice drifts through the air softly crooning Saviour, with the EKC singing along: “I’ll make it right / I’ll make it through.” I’m under the impression that he’s singing offstage until I notice every one else looking towards the middle row; sure enough he’s in a pew, head hung penitently – or just trying to avoid the flash from people’s cameras – making for a quiet bit of melodrama to start the night.

“Mellow and restrained, the show so far has been perfectly suited for a church; I’m not complaining – for once – about being confined to a pew.”

Damn the audience for not clapping in the right tempo! No matter – Lightburn gets us back on track heading into “Money Babies”. “Demons” and “You and I are a Gang of Losers” follow suit, the latter of which is what’s starting to hook me. Mellow and restrained, the show so far has been perfectly suited for a church; I’m not complaining – for once – about being confined to a pew. And because there has to be one in every crowd, a guy who’s a bigger – and drunker? – fan than me starts yelling out requests for Heartless Romantic, and receives a mix of shushing and indifference for his efforts. Not the last we’ll be hearing from Freebird.

Throughout the beginning of the set, the pace is fairly slow going, and I don’t really hear what I’m looking for until after Berlin Heart. Disclaimer has the soaring exultation of Pink Floyd or Spiritualized, at times a little too close to the latter but beautiful all the same. Freebird agrees with me, and goes apeshit with the cavortin’ and crazy talkin’. Between him the couple making out in the balcony and the guy playing air drums next to his very patient – or very oblivious – girlfriend, the St James has proved an ideal location for people watching tonight.

I adore the melancholic-to-intense build of “Crisis 1 & 2”; Natalia Yanchak’s voice has the same sort of hushed tone as Aimee Mann, and hauntingly complements Lightburn’s as he joins in. “Whites-Only Party” has my favorite line of the evening: “We didn’t come here to steal your women / at least that wasn’t the plan.” Should I be pissed? I’m not, and I don’t care. And ironically enough it’s after “Meltdown in A Minor” that Freebird finally crosses the line. Having sat himself upfront halfway through the show, he starts yelling stuff out during the sonar-heartbeat opening of “Lights Off,” prompting Lightburn to jokingly offer him a mic. The band loops the intro until Lightburn finally loses his patience with the increasingly agitated heckling and finally has two guys drag him out. Yes, dragged out of a church – “We’ve finally seen it all.” At a show being recorded for the CBC, no less.

Interruption aside, Lightburn goes into a lengthy explanation for Lights Off, about his daughter – with wife and keyboardist Yanchak – finally being able to sleep peacefully enough that she wouldn’t need a nightlight. The opening pulse eventually gives way to a soaring crescendo, too urgent to be a lullaby, yet beautiful all the same.

My token complaint is there are a couple of songs that sound a bit too much like someone else’s – Lights Off I could swear riffs too closely off of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android”, while others like “Disclaimer” that could easily be compared to Spiritualized or Pink Floyd. Unlike the unabashed plagiarism that was Wolfmother, I can sit through the show without the bile of outrage rising in my throat; and by the time the encores of “We Can Have It” and “Who Are You, Defenders of the Universe?” round out the end of the show, bringing the night crashing to end, I’m on the side of love ‘em and count myself a convert.

© Elizabeth Keith

St. James United Church - photo by Elizabeth Keith

Links:
The Dears – www.myspace.com/thedears

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