I couldn’t be any closer to The Dears without being inside one of them. Thirty minutes earlier I entered Manchester’s Ruby Lounge for the first time to be greeted by a cosy venue that resembles the red room from the dream sequences in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, a similarity that was heightened by support act Alice Gold’s enigmatic performance. After Gold had earned a roomful of new fans I casually walked to the front of the crowd with far less effort than I expected and stood directly in front of the microphone in time to see Montreal’s melancholy merchants The Dears enter a Manchester stage for the first time in 5 years- not to play, but to set up their equipment.
A few minutes and one costume change later and The Dears are back, bathed in red light and eery gospel music, frontman Murray Lightburn decked out in a three-piece suit. As they kick things off with the first four tracks from their latest album Degeneration Street, recent single Blood drawing the biggest reaction from the crowd, I begin to think that I might actually be too close to the stage. Having no crowd in front of me makes me feel less like I’m at a gig and more like I’m invading the band’s privacy, and it’s an odd feeling to look over at the guitarist only to find that he’s looking at me. With the uncomfortable fact that I’m as visible to the band as they are to me firmly in the front of my neurotic mind, I react by spending the first four songs shifting my arms from folded to pocketed about a million times and self consciously nodding my head, all the time thinking of Homer Simpson telling Bart “When I listen to a really good song, I start nodding my head, like I’m saying ‘yes’ to every beat.”
It’s only once the older songs start coming that I stop feeling so visible and the crowd and band come alive. Whites Only Party, from the 2006 album Gang of Losers, gets the place moving, while Lost In The Plot from 2003’s No Cities Left, draws the first of many sing alongs, with Lightburn altering the lyrics to namecheck Manchester. The crowd reaction to Lost In The Plot seems to energise the band, and Lightburn appears to lighten up at this point, engaging in some banter with a few of the drunker crowd members, even doling out a few high fives. He’s a charismatic and likeable frontman and his sense of humour is far more evident live than it is on record. Before the finale, a male versus female sing along to 22: The Death of All The Romance, Lightburn playfully introduces the song as “the all time classic”. While he says it jokingly, moments later as the Ruby Lounge empties onto Manchester’s streets I doubt there are many people who would disagree with that statement. These are songs, picked from a back catalogue that spans more than a decade, that deserve bigger venues and crowds than this. Tonight that just served to make the gig feel more special and intimate. Uncomfortably intimate in my case, because I’m a wrong-headed sociophobe.
Words by Martin Smith.
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