. : : February 17th, 2011 : : .
I loved the Dears when I first discovered them, opening for Matthew Good in 2003 as part of their No Cities Left tour. I listened to that album constantly, and shoved it on several friends with varying success. I saw the band tour that album five times in venues as varied as large congress centres, small clubs, and outdoor stages. But that band as I knew it imploded. Key members left, and the band seemed to be a rotating door of replacements, none of which seemed to click quite right. And, in my opinion, it showed. The follow-up discs lack the energy, enthusiasm and grandiose over-dramatization that made the band what it was.
The band kept coming to town, and I kept sitting on the fence, wondering if I should bother going. And I never did. Until last November, when the band was to play a small club show of the forth-coming disc front-to-back. I bought a ticket and said to myself, OK, I’m going to give the Dears another chance. Why not? It’s not like I have anything else to do that night, right? WRONG. Turns out the ticket I bought was for the exact same night Colleen Brown was coming back to town with the Crash Test Dummies. And originally, I wanted to try and swing both, but it didn’t work out. So imagine how I kicked myself when I found out it a couple of those old members had come back into the fold? Imagine how I’m kicking myself now that I’ve heard a chunk of the album and seen them play a few cuts live? But I’m getting ahead of myself, as I’m wont to do.
The band announced that they would be hosting two events in Toronto: first, an album listening party at the Drake Hotel, and second, a free in-store performance at premiere Toronto record store Sonic Boom. If you read the title, you already know: I opted for the latter.
In a tale already told on her blog, Singles And Pairs, I met up with blogger/craft-maker/photographer/all-around awesome person Katie “Superflash”, who is perhaps best known around these parts as the supplier of last spring’s wonderful NXNE photographs, and we made a remarkable date of the evening. A date spawned on Twitter, known affectionately as #twitterdatenight. But my story starts much earlier.
Some people are late concert goers. They show up just at start time, or perhaps a bit fashionably late, knowing that the bands are never on time anyway. They saunter in, slither into a comfortable spot, and get to enjoy the concert just like anyone else. But as much time and energy it would save if I could be that person, I can’t. I live 45-minutes outside of the downtown Toronto core, so I have to account not only for the normal commute times, but also any unforeseen delays. Couple that with no advance tickets AND a free show, and I want to be there early to make sure I’m not left out in the cold, literally. On top of that, I like to arrive even EARLIER than is necessary to make sure I have time to secure a good spot with both good sight AND sound lines, and have time to set up my microphones and gear without drawing too much attention.
That being said, I may have maybe possibly kind of sort of arrived ridiculously early. Like, an hour and twenty minutes early. Like, no one was even in the room except for me and the guy working the cash counter early. Luckily, Sonic Boom is a large, two-level record store with CDs, DVDs, video games and clothing (really? When did they start clothing?) on the top floor, and new and previously loved vinyl in the basement (with really ancient looking cassette tapes lining the shelves on the walls), so I wasn’t left wanting something to do. And when the crowd did start to arrive, they filled up the basement quickly. The capacity is roughly 100-125 people, and before the band had even finished setting up on stage, the crowd was spilling up onto the stairway.
It was immediately apparently that the band was renewed. I’ve never seen the band look like they’re having so much fun on stage, and although they seemed to spend as much time on stage trying to entertain each other as they did trying to entertain the crowd, it was exciting and refreshing to see. And the songs, while maybe not QUITE a return to form, are as close as any fan could hope for. The band took a brief break from performing to shill the new disc and remind everyone not to believe the critics. It turns out frontman Murray Lightburn was speaking about one review in particular, noted by an audience member who immediately cat-called, “FUCK PITCHFORK!” Curiosity got the best of me this morning, and upon perusing the site, it seems a reviewer gave the disc a jaw-dropping 2.4/10 score. I’m pretty sure they gave an online mix of a two year old banging on pots and pans with a spoon while playing the kazoo recording by plugging a cheap pair of headphones into the mic input of a boom box a 3.7/10, so it’s a pretty low blow. I quite like the new songs, and they absolutely sounded explosive in that record store basement.
It seems like the set had only just begun when the band wrapped up the short five-song set and the room quickly began pouring out. Katie and I took a short walk up the street to a restaurant called “Hey Lucy!” and spent the remainder of the evening chatting and gossiping like we’ve known each other for decades, and not minutes. The food was (mostly) outstanding, the company incomparable, and the perfect cap to an excellent evening out.
The sound on this recording turned out pretty well considering it was captured from a low-ceiling record store basement. Some songs are clearer than others, but it turned out to be a fairly accurate representation of what we heard in the room, and turned out better than I expected. Hopefully a few of you enjoy the recording and give the new album a chance, regardless of Pitchfork’s clear edict to the contrary.
02. Omega Dog
04. 5 Chords
06. The Anthem [Kardinal Offishall] [tease]
09. Hate Then Love
Thanks to The Dears, Sonic Boom Records, and Katie.