concert review: The Dears, Lioness @ The Mod Club (Toronto, Ontario) - April 30, 2009
I had to do a double-take last Thursday after work when I read the scrolling news on CP24 on the monitors at the College Subway platform that The Dears tour bus had been stolen earlier that day in Montreal. It all sounds like a sly publicity stunt - stolen tour bus on the eve of a tour. At the time, without knowing all the details, it'd all sounded surreal and just knowing that the show at The Mod Club was going to go on was exciting enough. It was hard at the time not to feel like The Dears were soldiering on despite the theft. I only found out the details of the incident after the show - the tour bus was rented and they were fortunate enough to have not loaded their instruments and equipment on before the bus was stolen. OK, so that explained why Murray et al. were so non-chalant about the whole incident. Perhaps, Murray's joke about imagining the culprit making a getaway in the bus should have been a giveaway that their loss wasn't so terrible; I couldn't imagine most indie bands emotionally/practically bouncing back so quickly had they'd had all their instruments and equipment stolen.
An early time slot is not at all befitting to Toronto electro dance-rock trio Lioness but here they were. With the rhythm section of Jeff Scheven and Ronnie Morris rising from the ashes of Toronto death-disco outfit controller.controller and fiery vocalist Vanessa Fischer of soul-punk's No Dynamics, their combined pedigree does reflect Lioness' resultant output. In some ways, Lioness with their jagged bass lines and disco-rock rhythms, aren't far off from controller.controller but whereas controller.controller vocalist Nirmala Basnayake always sang in a sort of sing-speak, Lioness' Vanessa Fischer has a robustness about it, augmented further by more fleshed out melodies. I was a big fan of controller.controller at the time, and I think that Lioness more than meet up to their high standards, but a pre-9pm (heck, a pre-11pm) time slot is perhaps not the best way to enjoy them. There were pockets of dancing, head-bobbing but not the full-on dance-party that they're probably capable of. One thing's for certain, Dears fan's aren't probably known for dancing.
The Dears have suffered through a few woes over the last several years, first record label troubles then the departure of 5/7's of the band leaving only Murray and Natalia. Fortunately, The Dears have bounced back from such low-points, having found a new label with Dangerbird and also recruiting a capable new backing band. Since "Gang Of Losers", I hadn't really though much about The Dears. Even as their newest album "Missiles" had been released, I hadn't really given it much of a listen and I'd realized that it was based solely on my irrational attachment to The Dears' old membership. Could The Dears' newly-recruited backing band duplicate the alternately anthemic and warmer qualities of The Dears' past albums? Undoubtedly, Murray and Natalia are the heart of the band and if either of them weren't there, it just wouldn't be the same. However, as the live set at The Mod Club last Thursday displayed, the new membership might be hired guns and they are unfamiliar faces but they did a more than admirable job performing both the old and new material.
The show opened quite dramatically with Murray singing("Missiles" track 'Saviour') from within the crowd, unbeknownst to most people until the spotlight shone upon him. From there, Murray jumped up onto the stage as the audience roared with approval. The set focussed on "Missiles" with several tracks each from "Gang Of Losers" and "No Cities Left" also contributed. As the new bandmates settle in, especially as they embark(well, just embarked) on a grueling next few months of touring, I really do have confidence that the new band'll get the job done. I was most impressed with new guitarist Jason Kent's confident guitar work. But as with heart of any band, I was mostly excited to see Murray and Natalia, especially on their duet of '22:The Death Of The Romance'. I also quite enjoyed Natalia's lead vocals on 'Crisis 1 & 2' but most of all because I wasn't used to seeing her sing lead. The older material seemed to spark a higher percentage of spontaneous and or prompted singalongs although perhaps natural given the most recent albums' more introspective tone. Alongside The Dears' older albums, "Missiles" is quite obviously the dark horse. Their Smiths-ian, anthemic qualities may have fallen by the wayside but The Dears continue to provoke and intrigue, even if they're quieter.
Lioness will be performing on MTV Live on May 13 and then will perform at this year's Pride Toronto at the Alexander Parkette Stage on June 28. The Dears will be touring Canada and the U.S. over the next few months.
Photos: The Dears @ The Mod Club (April 30, 2009)
MySpace: The Dears