The Dears
w/Robbers on High Street, the Crimea
Sun Dec 5, Crocodile Cafe, 8 pm, $8 adv./ $10 DOS, 18+.

Everyone has a favorite episode of The Simpsons.

Mine is the one where Bart sells his soul to Milhouse. Specifically it's the scene where Bart substitutes the music in Reverend Lovejoy's church for a choral version of Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-da-Vida" that really cracks me up: the antique organist slumped over the keys as she exercises a 10-minute solo, Homer whispering to Marge, "Do you remember when we used to make out to this hymn?" The music has all the over-the-top posturing of '70s prog rock matched to the portentous rumblings of organized religion. It's scarifying, dark... and a laugh riot.

No disrespect to Montreal's Murray Lightburn and his gang of soulful orchestral-rock musicians, the Dears, but that's precisely what the opening 12 minutes of his new mini concept album, Protest, reminds me of: music hall hysteria and Summer of Revolution sensibilities matched to music that veers wonderfully between space-rock, Christmas carols, and Jeff Wayne's score for War of the Worlds. Everything is sacred and beautiful. Humanity is a mere ghost in an urban landscape. The storm clouds grow until--suddenly!--a bass riff lifted wholesale from Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer" breaks in. Whoa! It's gone from heavy metal in all its pomp to proto-punk in five minutes. Nice. Now, the Dears sound like a poppy version of Brooklyn's psych merchants Oneida. And now, they're like something classico-techno master Nitin Sawhney might've dreamt of in his lighter moments.

And yet 2001's slightly sinister Orchestral Pop Noir Romantique EP toys with epic pop in the manner of the Smiths or Belle & Sebastian.

Perhaps this disparity of influences isn't surprising, given Lightburn's approach to music: "Christmas, punk, and cosmic rumblings are pretty much the same thing if you think about it hard enough," he explains. "Although, not if you believe that Christmas is something other than commercial bullshit, that punk is just music that is meant to be played fast no matter what you're singing about or what's in your heart, and that cosmic rumblings is a Discovery Channel show...

"People are sometimes afraid to express themselves in an earnest way," he adds. "They worry about looking 'too pretentious' or 'too melodramatic' or, God forbid, 'too Dears.'" God forbid.

The Dears started in April 2000, when perhaps the only "Jewish-named black singer in Canada" (according to the Guardian in London) got up onstage in Lee's Palace in Toronto and dropped to his knees, screaming (much in the style of the Buzzcocks' Pete Shelley and the Beatles' John Lennon), "There is no such thing as love!" Protest was conceived and recorded a year later: like mid-'90s-period Flaming Lips (i.e., before they got boring and turned into R.E.M. for the post Nevermind generation) reared on a diet of Morrissey's gladioli and Blur's castoffs. Actually, Lightburn once traveled to London with a bag of demos, in search of Blur's former genius (and tormented) guitarist Graham Coxon. The notoriously obsessive Coxon is a fair role model for Lightburn's meticulous composing. Not that you'd guess it, to hear him talk:

What would he credit the disparity of his sound to?

"Willy Loman."

At that first Lee's Palace concert, there were only slightly more people in the audience than on the stage: a year later, after the Dears had been furiously championed by Canadian radio, 700 fervent followers showed up. Rave reviews have followed since, particularly at South by Southwest this year, and in the British press, strangely nostalgic for the days when "indie" didn't just mean a bunch of boring male bastards with a predilection for marrying duck-faced film stars and naming their children after fruit. Once, "indie" was synonymous with a determination to forge your own path. The Dears are un-apologetically old-school indie--with no knowing wink to the galleries (thank God), and sometimes magical.

"Yesterday, I was in tears all day as I attempted to invent a new kind of poetry," Lightburn says. "Every day when I wake up, I look at myself in the mirror and tell myself that I will be better than I was the day before. This morning, I woke up and decided I am going to save the soul of humankind. It began with a few phone calls..."

editor@thestranger.com

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