SoundBites Best of 2005 | Gigs

I saw a lot of shows in 2005, half of which I’m forgetting about. It used to be I had a jar where I kept all my ticket stubs, but between Ticketweb and buying tickets at the door, it’s hard to keep track. But one thing’s for sure…

Live Band of the Year: The Dears

The Dears were the best live band touring in 2005. Period. They were pretty much ignored by the American press (and blogs especially) which is partly their own fault. Their album No Cities Left (released November 2004) just didn’t do any of the songs justice. People heard the album, and Murray Lightburn’s Damon-Albarn-meets-Morrissey vocal delivery, the keyboard-heavy production and decided they didn’t need to see these poseurs live.

This is how I felt when I heard it too. But then I went to see them with the Brian Jonestown Massacre at Mercury Lounge in October 2004 and I was blown away. The dynamics. The musicianship. The love. And their unbelievable stage presence, especially frontman Murray Lightburn. The vocal affectations melt away when he belts it out onstage, selling every note. And what seems fey on the album, absolutely rocks live. The Dears are an absolute powerhouse live. And it made me love the album, too.

I saw them again at Mercury Lounge on my birthday (January 15, if you’re wondering) with Radiohead-wannabes Benzos. This was a minor disappointment, suffering mainly to an oddly-arranged setlist and being a bit too loud for the room (maybe the only time ever at the Merc).

Still, I dragged everyone I could to see subsequent shows. I paid for tickets! And I made believers out of every one of them (except my friend Jenn, who doesn’t like Belle & Sebastian either, so there you go). They make believers out of everyone who sees them.

The Dears opened for Crooked Fingers at Bowery Ballroom in March, a weird
bill as Crooked Fingers fans tend to be Upper East Side ’30-something
types. But as the Dears set progressed, more and more people filled the
main room, and the place was buzzing afterwards with people talking
about how amazing this band they’d never heard of were. (Crooked
Fingers, to me, came off like a Bruce Springsteen making a cameo on The Waltons.)

I saw many of those people again when the Dears headlined Bowery
Ballroom on June 11, playing with Shout Out Louds and Marjorie Fair.
After six months of touring, the band was on fire. They also finally
had a budget for a lightshow (and tastefully-used smoke machine) that
brought everything together for what was easily my Gig of the Year. An
old college buddy of mine was in town that weekend and I drug him, only
somewhat unwillingly, to the show. He called Murray an "absolute porn
star" and meant it in a good way.

It was around this time that they started opening their sets with a
new song, "Gang of Losers," which is so good my friend Jeff actually
took out his earplugs so he could hear it in full effect. Big,
anthemic, catchy as all-hell with a lyric hook of "you and I, we’ve got
the same heart," the song has Hit written all over it. In a good way.
Let’s hope they nail  the studio recording.

The Dears rounded out 2005 with a great performance at the Siren
Festival though, once again, their set was pretty much ignored in every
review I could find. It was so hot, so muggy that day, Murray was
sweating like Roger Ebert… maybe that was why. They much better in
the dark.

New album in 2006!

Photo from Mediaeater.

More great shows I saw in 2005:

Soundtrack of Our Lives | Bowery Ballroom | 1.18
One of the
best live bands on the planet. It’s every rock star move you’ve ever
seen any band do, with a lead singer who looks like a Trappist monk,
and hooks out the wazoo.

Kaiser Chiefs | Northsix and Bowery Ballroom | 02.12, 3.25
These guys aren’t all that (a bit manufactured) but they’re getting better. And loads of fun live.

Maximo Park w/ Hot Chip | Rothko | 3.15
When the
singer and keyboardist stop doing those silly affected stage moves,
Maximo Park will come into their own. Hot Chip were surprisingly great
for being a bunch of shmoe-y dudes behind keyboards.

LCD Soundsystem | Bowery Ballroom and Webster Hall | 4.02, 6.10
Is it possible that an "electronic" act like LCD Soundsystem could be even better live than on 12"? Believe it. And the drummer doesn’t wear headphones!

British Sea Power w/ Feist | Bowery Ballroom | 5.15
don’t put shrubbery onstage anymore, but they’re better for it. Intense
and swooning rock, dressed up in linen and scarves. Leslie Feist held
the crowd’s attention with just her voice and a guitar.

Doves w/ Mercury Rev | Webster Hall | 5.18
Doves are the only band I’ve seen who genuinely sounded great at Webster Hall. The fantastic light show didn’t hurt, either.

The Coral w/ Shout out Louds | Bowery Ballroom | 6.9
Sea chanty-singing Liverpudlians and indie rocking Swedes, plus an Adam Brody sighting!

The Go-Betweens | Mercury Lounge | 6.10
Has any band had a second act as graceful and necessary as the Go-Betweens? They are better than they were in the ’80s.

Canada Day in Brooklyn w/ New Pornographers, Stars and The Sadies | 6.25
was Carl Newman’s favorite — and biggest — live show of the year. I
liked it almost as much as him. Best Stars show I’d seen yet (And I
have seen many).

Tom Vek | Scenic | 9.15 (CMJ)
Making a very good one-man-album even better with a real band.

Voxtrot, The Cribs, Chin Up Chin Up | Tribeca Rock Club | 9.17 (CMJ)
Three great bands playing to college kids drunk on dollar Red Stripe in the late afternoon. What could be better?

Dirty on Purpose w/ Amusement Parks on Fire | Mercury Lounge | 9.18 (CMJ)
Double-dose of neo shoegaze, one from Brooklyn, one from the UK. DoP’s best show yet — guys, you don’t need to replace Erica (controversial opinion I know).

Wolf Parade | NorthSix | 10.25
All Canadian bands are good live. Even Loverboy. Wolf Parade are not my favorite Cannucks, but a fine show nonetheless.

Elbow | Hiro Ballroom | 11.3
Neither jet lag, nor twisted ankle, nor equipment failure could stop this intimate gig from being one of the best of 2005.

Art Brut | Mercury Lounge and NorthSix | 11.10, 11.12
Maybe the most fun shows of the year. Eddie Argos is the real deal, though he should keep his shoes on.


  1. No ignoring of The Dears going on here! If people think that they're Morrissey/Blur wannabes, they're really not listening. I was lucky enough to see them at Maxwells in front of 15 people back in March 2004 after my friend Sara raved about them and I was completely blown away. I've liked every other show I've seen them do since then (including the 2nd one you mentioned at Mercury Lounge), but none of them matched the ferocity and intensity of that Maxwells show and I agree that the Mercury Lounge show was a bit disappointing (the one last January). Incidentally I was at their other Mercury Lounge show as well, but I missed their set because I couldn't get down there on time. Oh and No Cities Left was one of my favorite albums of 2004. Have you heard their live album? It's absolutely stunning.

  2. I must confess that I sought out the dears because I heard that lightburn sounded like moz & I thought hmmm, must hear that. (I guess there's a part of me that will always be a smiths lovin' teen, ah well) you're absolutely right though about the live vocal ferocity being miles away from impersonation. even at siren, which is a tough daytime sell thanks to the cyclone & the fury, lightburn seemed determined to shoot out his voice for the sake of the song & the rest of the band backed him up ferociously, moment to moment. I can't wait for their return.

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