Montreal group the Dears fits squarely in the current crop of Canadian acts — bands that, like the breakthrough band Arcade Fire, command the stage with intensity while reaching past pop convention into theatrics. Though the Dears’ newest record, “No Cities Left” (SpinArt), doesn’t quite achieve these goals, at the first show of their U.S. tour — with the help of some new, key lighting and smoke effects — the band managed to turn the small El Rey into something approaching an enormous arena, with songs designed to reach the back, even at their most unusual peaks.
It’s not all smoke and mirrors (though they definitely help). Front man Murray Lightburn has a gorgeous, trained voice that pierces through the sometime-cacophony produced by the rest of the photogenic band. Moody keyboards are omnipresent on “Lost in the Plot,” as are guitar licks that sometimes creep and sometimes roar. Songs like the excellently named “Who Are You, Defenders of the Universe?” mine dramatic territory as much as they do rock convention.
Make no mistake: The arena sound the Dears are going for is far from that of a band like Coldplay and more like sometimes-icy acts like Morrissey (who watched the show at the El Rey perched in the balcony). The Montreal scene is complex, interesting and charismatic, and if it explodes as predicted, the Dears could very well be the next, next big thing.
Openers Shout Out Louds celebrated their album’s release day with Cure-meets-Cars songs from their fantastic debut, “Howl Howl Gaff Gaff” (Capitol), though they didn’t manage to capture the immediacy of the album’s energy until the end of their well-received set.