Drama drives fantastic Dears

Rating: NNNNN

The throng snaking up Spadina to College Friday was for the El Mo’s queer disco night, Vaseline, but it should have been the lineup to see pop romantique ensemble the Dears.

Just give the Montreal crew a few more visits to town. By the time the five-piece was finished, you couldn’t walk three steps without running into someone proclaiming the Dears the best band in Canada. They may be right.

Friday’s gig was not the full orchestra set the band have been threatening to bring to town, but was no less impressive. The Dears seem tied to high drama, from their tortured pop songs, each of which sounds like the outline for a short film, right down to their gear-stuffed tour van, which died outside the El Mo and had to be towed away after the gig.

Joined by a two-piece horn section that only occasionally distinguished itself from the space-rock din, the band alternated between sheets of drone-damaged white noise and equally epic pop songs, with Natalia Yanchak’s battered Farfisa and Jonathan Cohen’s guitar battling for supremacy.

A feverish mix in itself, but utterly deadly when you have someone like volatile frontman Murray Lightburn leading the charge. Staring out into space like a serial killer, and with a kerchief tied around his neck, Lightburn pranced and crooned like a grade-A pop star, slowly cranking up the tension as the set wore on.

It was a gripping display. But however overwhelming their songs are, the band should know when to stop.

Most bands would pull out their fingernails for the Dears’ heroic, throat-shredding finale, with Lightburn’s howling on the floor followed by a frantic drum breakdown. Following that up with an encore, no matter how good, almost defeats the purpose.

THE DEARS, at the El Mocambo, September 29. Tickets: $6. Attendance: 120. Rating: NNNN

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