I discovered The Dears in May 2003, when I saw them do a show at Club Soda, almost by accident. I was actually there to catch opening act Moufette and, tired as I was on that particular night, I figured I’d only stick around for a few songs of the main act, unaware that they happened to be the best band in Montreal at the time. I was completely blown away by The Dears’ performance, which inspired me to buy the album they’d recently released, No Cities Left (arguably still their crowning achievement), and I instantly became a true believer.
I’ve seen them live again many times over the years, in places as varied as the defunct Spectrum, Club Lambi, the Masonic Memorial Temple (!), Mission Santa Cruz and La Sala Rossa, and every time I fell in love again with their music, which might be best described by borrowing the title of one of their EPs, Orchestral Pop Noir Romantique, then throwing in a lot of soul, a touch of prog and some indie rock vibes for good measure.
Critics haven’t always been kind to their post-No Cities Left releases, but Gang of Losers (2006), Missiles (2008) and the recent Degeneration Street (2011) have all been in heavy rotation in my household, filled as they are with anthemic songs that often seem to speak directly to me.
Which is all a long-winded way of saying that when I heard that Invisible Publishing was putting out a book about them as part of their new Bibliophonic series, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Especially since on top of being so enamoured with The Dears, I’m also crazy about rock biographies (in the past year alone I’ve read about the exploits of Led Zeppelin, Prince and The Rolling Stones, amongst others).
THE DEARS: LOST IN THE PLOT
Written by Lorraine Carpenter, a local music journalist who’s not only interviewed The Dears a bunch of times throughout their career but who also considers singer-songwriter Murray Lightburn a friend, Lost in the Plot is an unabashedly personal and subjective take on the history of the band, full of juicy anecdotes that a writer with less inside access might not have been privy to.
And even though Carpenter is almost part of the family, her book is hardly a hagiography. In fact, Lightburn and his cohorts sometimes come off like drunken buffoons, prone as they are to getting into epic fights with each other. “I’d never really yelled at anyone until I joined The Dears and then I’d be yelling all the time, and it just made me anxious,” says guitar player Rob Benvie in chapter 4.
“So we lost our shit, which we do very well. And, again, we almost broke up,” says keyboardist Natalia Yanchak a few pages before, setting up what felt to me like the running gag of the band’s story. You see, from their formation in 1995 to the present day, The Dears have had close to 20 musicians go in and out of their ranks. It might be mean to admit to, but reading about the endless shifts in their lineup becomes kind of hilarious, as one bandmate after another quits, is “asked to leave” or gets “an honourable discharge.”
Through it all, the quotes attributed to leader Murray Lightburn make him sound alternately like “a self-hating rock star” (as he’s described by Laura Wills at some point) and a self-aggrandizing megalomaniac. Then again, as Dizzy Dean once said, it ain’t bragging if you can back it up. As such, when Murray points out that The Dears “laid down stone for an entire scene in this country, yet no one ever mentions that we were the band that put this path in place,” he’s pretty much right.
Which brings us to another thing I greatly enjoyed about Lost in the Plot: how, even though it’s about The Dears first and foremost, it’s also a fascinating account of the explosion of the Montreal music scene in the mid-aughts, as experienced by a group that was reportedly stalked by Arcade Fire’s Win Butler the year he arrived in the city, and that somehow broke the urn holding the ashes of Godspeed member Efrim Menuck’s dead dog while recording at Hotel2Tango!
Lorraine Carpenter’s The Dears: Lost in the Plot is available now; a launch party is also planned on April 29 at Casa del Popolo, 5 to 8 p.m.