The Dears, Plants and Animals @ The Fleece, Bristol, 25/02/17

The DearsIf you don't follow my album reviews with the same religious zeal that Paul Nuttall followed Liverpool's 1989 FA Cup run, you may not be aware that I am quite fond of the new album from The Dears. I also cut my teeth on Montreal's booming indie scene of the mid-'00s, so when the evergreen Plants and Animals were announced on the bill, it seemed too good to pass up.

It's the latter who kick things off tonight, of course, barely half an hour after drummer Matthew "Woody" Woodley and I sat down for a chat about the band - you can read that interview right here, zealots - and they waste no time demonstrating how they earned those Polaris and Juno nominations over the years. Frontman Warren Spicer's voice is rich and powerful, belying the relative paucity of its fanbase here in the UK, and provides a satisfying counterpoint to Woodley's inventive, occasionally jazz-tinged drumming. "No Worries Gonna Find Us" is an early highlight of this union, and turns out to be one of several gems tonight plucked from their return to form, last year's Waltzed in from the Rumbling. The set is varied throughout, though one wonders whether they've remained in relative shadow, internationally, for lack of a hit - until they bring out the storming "Lightshow" near the end, and you wonder instead how they're not selling out bigger venues.

When The Dears arrive on stage, it makes sense that Murray Lightburn is decked out in suit and tie. The trouble to co-singer Natalia Yanchak's strife, his comparisons to both Morrissey and Damon Albarn speak volumes of what they share in common: an old-school melancholy, married to the past and its glamours; an almost boastful sense of propriety towards the subject of death. In short, they all manage to render sadness in a way that's kind of sexy. It certainly pairs nicely with their setlist tonight, as they open with the first two tracks from Times Infinity Volume One, both of which simmer with nervous, apocalyptic energy. "It's not safe," Lightburn croons from centre stage, set to a propulsive, Afrobeat-indebted rhythm that serves to conduct more joy than anxiety in the room.

Older favourites "You and I Are a Gang of Losers" and "Lost in the Plot" set the crowd into motion, the latter delivered with particular ferocity, before its soft underbelly shows: "Oh, I promise not to cry any more..." But it's the encore that really sets hearts racing, Lightburn returning for a solo set that includes a first ever acoustic outing of "Warm and Sunny Days," adding beautiful renditions of "There Goes My Outfit" and "The Second Part," before closing the night on No Cities Left favourite "22: The Death of All the Romance." By the time Yanchak and Lightburn are exchanging dramatic vocal lines in the chorus, the audience are no longer simply moving, but swaying and swooning, drunk on The Dears' inimitable brand of heartbreak chic.

The lights come on, and before I know it I've spent the best part of five minutes chewing Murray's ear off at the merch stand. Holy shit, Montreal, I think I'm in love with you all over again.


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