by Casey Dolan
The Canadian band, The Dears, led by singer-songwriter-guitarist Murray Lightburn and his wife Natalia Yanchak on keyboards, have had a hard time keeping it together since its inception in 1996. Mass defections have occurred and the married couple remain the only constant.
The current and fourth studio album, “Missiles,” is full of heart-breaking melodic turns and chordal surprises and held much promise for the live show at the Key Club last night, but you can’t hide this kind of band dysfunction. Although the material bears a serious, hand-wringing stamp, nothing could prepare one for the stony-faced delivery from all seven musicians. It was clear that no one on stage was having any fun at this gig.
Jason Kent, one of the two lead guitarists, tried awfully hard to boost the proceedings with some memorable. searing leads on his Telecaster, particularly on the new song “Lights Off,” an epic (Lightburn is given to writing epics) that begins with Lightburn channeling Joe Strummer channeling Leonard Cohen. There’s even a Cohenesque line as a refrain: “Leave your hat on the bed.” The song ended in the kind of grandiose largo movement befitting the late Beatles, Pink Floyd or “OK Computer”-era Radiohead.
The set began to gather steam at this mid-way point, but it was an uphill struggle for drummer Yann Geoffroy, who seemed challenged the whole night. Rushed fills and a lead foot always managed to shift the time constantly, either pulling the songs down to a stultified pace or nervously taking off at the races. There were times when you prayed for tightness, only to receive apathetic slop; craved the precise close harmonies of the album, only to hear out-of-tune vocals (Yanchak had an obviously difficult time during her one lead moment on “Crisis 1 2”).
It’s a pity. Lightburn is a genuine talent and he’s certainly been slogging at this long enough to deserve better than an opening slot for Secret Machines at the Key Club. For any proof, the reader is directed to the new video for “Money Babies,” the first single from “Missiles,” or the gorgeous melody of “Meltdown in A Major” (“Most people will say you are wrong/I know you’re on to something”). At a time of failing markets and a hysterical Wall Street, the repeated line in “Money Babies” — “Our money is elastic” — has special urgency and prescience.
But these were not enough to save what palpably seemed like A Band in Trouble Friday night. The Dears are planning on returning to Los Angeles early next year. One hopes that all the kinks that were on exhibit will have been worked out by then.
Photo by Liam Maloney