The annals of music are littered with next-big-things, bands who promised much but who never managed to turn critical appraisal into commercial success. Most of them tend to sublimate away after their first album when it's clear that they aren't going to make it without eating.
The Dears were one of these bands; set to save indie with their Blur-meets-The-Smiths journo-bait – and a truly amazing album in 2003's No Cities Left. The difference is that though they never quite bit, they haven't given up. Now, suddenly, they're doggedly onto their fifth album.
They may be playing to a fifth-album crowd (a tiny room packed with aging die-hards), but they aren't playing a fifth-album show. In fact, they're shockingly resurgent, thriving on the intimacy. They've evolved into a far rockier consideration than their earlier days as high priests of the Cult of Britpop Reborn, but unabashed histrionics are clearly still on the table from song one, which climbs from Morrissey to Mogwai in four minutes.
After a couple of fairly milksop albums, main man Murray Lightburn has rediscovered his id, snarling through potent newies like "Stick with Me Kid", "Thrones" and "Blood". It's genuinely great to hear them back in attack mode – no song gets to end without the whole band having a decent thrash at it.
Lightburn himself is on very convivial – if fairly bladdered – form. He's sporting a grim-looking leg brace, but it barely dampens his mobility, let alone his enthusiasm. The band are also all smiles, significant considering all the rumours of rifts over the years. They're clearly in a good place these days.
It all leads up to a spellbinding rendition of one of the best songs of the last decade, "The Death of All the Romance". We're asked to join in the duet parts according to gender, and the show ends with a messily uproarious chantalong in the true Dears style.