Friday, February 11, 2005

There, There My Dears

The Dears/Ambulance LTD, Birmingham Carling Academy 2, Wednesday February 9 2005.

'No Cities Left' was one of Parallax View's Top Ten Albums Of 2004 but five weeks is a long time in pop politics - will the delay cost The Dears? Dead Kenny set out to investigate.

There's nothing like getting your excuses in early, and after a tentative start to tonight's gig, lead singer Murray Lightburn advises that as much as he's enjoyed playing in the UK he's been seriously unwell throughout most of the tour. Furthermore, as the band set out the final stretch of their long and winding roadtrip through beer-company sponsored halls up and down the country, the rest of The Dears are starting to feel proper poorly too. Things are getting so bad they considered cancelling tonight's gig, but mindful of not committing career-suicide-by-razorlight, Murray advises that they'd have turned up even if they had to come in on wheelchairs.

Perversely, once they've got this off their chests the band seem to relax and they get rather lively for coughin' dodgers. Lightburn is an odd-looking but also oddly watchable frontman, the only real competition in terms of visual stimulus being the two female keyboard players (the devastatingly sexy blonde who also plays the flute, and her elfin friend with the stronger voice). The Dears' real strength is that no-one else quite looks or sounds like them as a band, they're one-offs at a time when it's fashionable to be fascimiles. They're Canadians, but have little else but superficial influences in common with The Stills, The Constantines et al. while Murray may sound from time to time like Albarn or Morrissey, but the band's music doesn't draw genuine comparisons (for better or worse) with Blur or The Smiths.

For a band with a considerable live reputation, there's a lack of urgency to their songs that might struggle to engage an audience that wasn't familiar with their records but committed fans get their money's worth and, promisingly, alongside singles 'We Can Have It' and 'Lost In The Plot' the two other most immediate songs are newies, while an old number encourages audience participation with the handclap-style drums. Nice line in minimalist b&w t-shirts, too (hey, these things are important).

Maybe The Dears had a premonition of their impending ill health, what else can explain their decision to bring along an Ambulance (LTD) in support? Erm, apart from the fact their amiable air and strong, varied set of indie tunefulness makes them ideal tour companions to the Montreal miserablists, as well as leaving your correspondent stretchered out in ecstasy. I'm not familiar enough with their songs to write about them in great detail, but I have a feeling that will all change when their debut album gets an overdue UK release next month (could they be this year's Shins, maybe?). They leave their best song, 'Heavy Lifting' 'til last, but with its' lovely melody and altering moods, it's well worth the weight. Maybe they're not a band to change the world, but it's good to know they're on hand to provide an emotional rescue when we might need them. Ambulance LTD, then: enjoy the sirens.

Related: Jon (Has It Really Come To This...?) gets to interview Ambulance LTD and elicits some entertaining band-bashing comments (via Ben).


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