The Dears Electric Ballroom LONDON Mylo Foundation NEWCASTLE
`We are The Dears, from Montreal, Canada," says Murray Lightburn, by way of coy, unnecessary introduction. "We're a long way from home. We'd like to thank you for coming out tonight. This is a momentous night for us. We want to thank you from here..." He places his palm on his heart. "From here..." He points a finger-pistol to his temple. "And from here..." He grabs his crotch, Jacko-style.

Overseas acclaim has been a long-time coming for this Quebecois sextet. They formed a decade ago, the album everyone's talking about, No Cities Left, is actually the band's third, and even that first surfaced in 2003. And a large part of the reason that Britain has finally pricked up its ears is the craven, shameless use of the S-word.

"They sound nothing like The Smiths," grumbles one punter leaving the Electric Ballroom, doubtless lured by the live ads which prominently displayed a quote from a review comparing The Dears to God's own Mancunians.

And he has a point. It certainly isn't an exact fit. For one thing, Stephen "All Reggae Is Vile" Morrissey would surely never have approved The Dears' opener tonight, a 10-minute Augustus Pablo-style melodica odyssey.

Lightburn has been candid about his love for The Smiths: he has written essays about how much he idolises Morrissey, and The Dears have opened for the great man in Montreal. And in addition to the occasional vocal inflection, many of his lyrical flourishes are blatantly Morrisseyesque: compare "I don't have a raincoat of my own" with "I would go out tonight, but I haven't got a stitch to wear", or "Take me for a drive to the coastline" with "Take me out tonight... driving in your car." However, The Dears have a style which is all their own - it could, in the words of one of their own EP titles, be described as orchestral pop noir romantique. Or perhaps that should be styles. Some songs are deceptively simple freewheeling indie jangle a la Belle and Sebastian, but others float and soar like David McAlmont's Thieves, or attain the chaotic kitchen-sink density of early Mercury Rev, or nimbly switch from symphonic soul into Oi, from Isaac Hayes to Angelic Upstarts in the space of a bar.

Lightburn counts in a song "one-two-three-four-five-six" like an artier Joey Ramone, and one song is even in 7/8 time. But it isn't their musical complexity which will win hearts as much as their emotional nudity.

There's an idea at large - crystallised by Thom Yorke in "Creep" - that an inverse relationship exists between physical beauty and moral virtue. Indeed, it's become such a cliche that it needs subverting, but The Dears appear to confirm it. It's a fair bet that, with the exceptions of somewhat foxy keyboardists Natalia Yanchak and Valerie Jodoin-Keaton, they weren't the popular kids at school, and that the experience of rejection was grimly enriching for the soul. You don't get to write songs like these by being top of everyone's Valentine's Day card list.

"Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruce Springsteen..." The American voice falters as the easy, familiar names give way to ones of which the speaker is less certain. "David Boo-wee... Cyndi Looper... Jack Cougar Mellencamp..." Mylo's debut single, recorded in 2003 on a second-hand iMac using free shareware for a total cost of pounds 350, was a stroke of genius. "Destroy Rock & Roll" samples a fundamentalist preacher, who reels off a list of rock and pop artists deemed to be threats to the morality and decency of American youth (it seems unconscionable that Huey Lewis and the News and The Alan Parsons Project were really seen as such a menace, but the mid-Eighties were strange times).

An easy gag, but the inspired part is the way Mylo lays the religious rhetoric over an addictive house groove, turning its intended righteous bile into a thing of joy and jubilation, turning a curse into a celebration, an invocation.

Some 18 months later, several hundred Geordies have their hands in the air, and are chanting the looped chorus: "Missing Persons... Duran Duran... Missing Persons... Duran Duran..." and Myles MacInnes, a twentysomething from the Isle of Skye, has the look of someone who can't believe this is really happening. He punches the air too, somewhat uncertainly.

There's no freakshow to dazzle the retinas, little to engage the eyes beyond the lyrics and songtitles in back-projected spraypaint stencil font. A modest, balding fellow in a floral shirt, stood behind a Korg and flanked by one chap (bass) dressed in a sensible V-neck and another (keyboards/guitar) in a T-shirt, Mylo is nobody's idea of a rock star, probably not even his own.

It's one of the perpetual ironies of dance music that it's always the bedroom losers and antisocial nerds who come up with the tunes that bring the party boys and party girls together and fill the floors: a case of shut-ins causing lock-outs.

MacInnes did not, it's safe to surmise, spend his youth dropping E at illegal raves around the M25 (or its Highlands equivalent). He's not a hedonistic rock'n'roll libertine: he has Twinings herbal tea on his rider (which he hands to the front row before the encore). Admittedly he also has a bottle of Smirnoff, but he hands this out too... unopened.

One must beware of going too far down the patronising "innocent yokel" route - MacInnes is no provincial naif (he studied at Oxford and UCLA), but he did spend his formative years listening to Eighties soft rock on Atlantic 252. You can hear this Eighties influence time and time again: one track weaves the riffs from Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes" and Fleetwood Mac's "Big Love" around each other. To introduce another, Mylo plays the synth fanfare from Van Halen's "Jump" by hand.

He ends with his killer dancefloor anthem "Drop the Pressure", assuring the assembled Northumbrians over a vocoder that "motherfuckers" are indeed "gonna drop the pressure". Does Myles MacInnes kiss his mother with that mouth? Maybe the preacher had a point.

s.price@independent.co.uk

The Dears: Rescue Rooms, Nottingham (0115 958 8484), tonight; Charlotte, Leicester (0116 255 3956), Mon; Carling Academy 2, Birmingham (0121 262 3000), Wed; Concorde 2, Brighton (01273 673311), Thur; Zodiac, Oxford (01865 420042), Fri. Mylo: Manchester University (0161 275 2930), tonight

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