The Dears – Village Underground, London, UK (28th Feb 2017)

This is our punishment reward set,” says Murray Lightburn, frontman of The Dears, to laughter from the crowd before him. “Punishment, reward, new song. Punishment, reward…” That’s before The Dears launch into what he calls a ‘punishment’; in other words, just another fantastic song from the final night of their European tour.

Village Underground is a venue that could have been made for The Dears; a renovated brickwork warehouse that’s as quirky and creative as the band it’s housing tonight. First song up is ‘We Lost Everything’, the opening track of their new album ‘Times Infinity Volume One’, starting off the night with a high that only seems to get stronger.

As Lightburn says during the course of the set, “people have come in and out of revolving doors” over the band’s 22-year history. But all the musicians on stage tonight have no problem fitting into the role of performing the band’s expansive discography, new and old. Not that they would have a choice either way – Lightburn’s energy is enough to grip and pull along any listener or musician for the musical ride.

Few musicians are stronger, of course, than the husband-wife duo of the frontman and Natalia Yanchak, long-term members of the band. The foil for Murray’s extensive energy, Natalia is effortlessly cool on the keys, even with one hand behind her back during some songs. Her soulful presence, never overstated, is the antithesis of the more commonly dramatic performance of these modern days, a stage presence that is unwaveringly charming.

There are a number of touching references to their relationship throughout the set. In ‘You and I Are A Gang Of Losers’, the keyboard is fondly turned to his wife; later, he starts to introduce Natalia to the crowd and then just stops, words unnecessary, and she blows kisses back to him. During ‘Lost in the Plot’, there may as well be no-one else in the room.

The set is full of such intimate little moments, delighting the responsive crowd. Murray takes to the stage with a playful tambourine performance through ‘Hate Then Love’, followed by maracas a song later. But one of the strongest reactions of the night goes to Natalia’s performance of new song ‘Onward and Downward’, her solo line, “In the end, one will die alone” quietly effective over the band and the distorted choir synth weaving into the instruments.

After the encore, Murray comes back on stage for a final set of exquisite solo songs, with ‘We Can Have It’, soothing the venue into a still silence. His faultless singing is really highlighted here, the kind you may be as happy to hear on this stage as around a warm campfire – as shown on ‘There Goes My Outfit’, when he sings a verse without the microphone, the audience wildly appreciative of the rawness.

Those who weren’t at the London gig  missed out on a stellar performance. Fans can but hope that the release of ‘Times Infinity Volume Two’, scheduled for this summer, will bring The Dears back to the UK very soon – they’ve been sorely missed, and this gig shows they haven’t lost an ounce of their energy or joie de vivre in their absence.