No Cities Left for The Dears 

Who: The Dears

Where: Boot Pub

When: Monday, June 23

Driving across Canada must be a rather symbolic journey for The Dears, who are known for making music about travelling down darkened paths and making it through the rocky roads. The Montreal-based melancholy melody-makers are hitting every major town they can to build on the indie success of their latest album, No Cities Left, that’s been hovering in the top five on the national college radio charts for several months now.

The Montreal sextet, which got together in 1995, merge dark symphonies with hope-filled lyrics and No Cities Left picks up where the Dears’ much-lauded, Juno-nominated debut, End of a Hollywood Bedtime Story , left off.

Bedtime Story was regularly trumpeted as one of the top albums for 2000 and Toronto’s Eye Magazine pegged the band as "officially the best band in Canada," thanks mostly to their emotionally powerful live show influenced by a symphonic ’60s pop sound.

Their big band sound can be attributed to a confident and talented bunch of musicians who take their job seriously. Lead singer, songwriter and producer, Murray Lightburn is an imposing figure who often enters the arena at a live show from the back of the room. On bass is Martin Pelland, who along with Lightburn, is well-known for composing film scores. Drummer George Donoso also works with Pelland on an experimental act called Organics. Keyboardist Natalia Yanchak has a keen interest in music journalism. Two new members come prepared with a myriad of bands left in their wake, with Robert Benvie on guitar and Valerie Jodoin-Keaton who handles keyboards, flute and backing vocals.

At the forefront is most definitely the enigmatic Lightburn, who has been known to raise his hands in the air in passionate fury, speak through a megaphone and almost give a sermon to the crowd, who seem to hang on his every word. This tour behind The Dears’ latest album should be no different, in fact, the road to get the album done was so fraught with trauma, that the concert now speaks for the art itself.

No Cities Left had all the makings of a smooth studio production: a few of their own dollars, a cheap studio in old Montreal called The Stock Market, an infamous engineer, and plenty of partially demo-ed material.

Over the next four months, The Dears recorded some 500 takes per song for each of the 12 tracks on the album. The next step was to edit these takes down to the essential material needed to move forward. But editing took longer than expected, and the band began to feel as though they had undertaken the musical equivalent of Apocalypse Now.

The final product was completely wrong and The Dears considered re-recording the entire thing – starting again where they had nine months before – but that would have meant the end of The Dears, having already lost two members earlier that year. Everything seemed utterly hopeless.

The Dears called on old friend, Howard Bilerman, who co-runs a studio up the street in Mile End. The band wanted to see if they could salvage anything from the labour already lost on those tracks. The first night they tried to mix Twenty Two, a complicated song with layers of violins, cello, brass, many synthesizers, many vocals – a classic Dears arrangement. While they were not entirely successful, the session sparked a fire at the end of a long dark tunnel; a light that The Dears had not seen for some time. The Dears were squeezed into the already-booked studio in overnight sessions and for eight days straight, from midnight until early afternoon, The Dears mixed their record.

The finishing touches were made in the dawning hours of New Year’s Eve. With this momentous event came an optimism for the future – that despite all they faced in the past, The Dears would triumph and succeed in bringing No Cities Left to the public.

Tickets to the Dears are $5, available at the door.

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