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Hearing in Black and White

For bands like Loney, Dear, MP3s leave us both richer and poorer.

By Thom Wong 12 Mar 2009 | TheTyee.ca

Thom Wong writes regularly about music for The Tyee. He can also be found ruminating about the state of menswear at The Sunday Best.

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Loney, Dear -- much bigger in real life.

In a perfect world, music would only be heard live, and be available all the time. It'd be interesting to find a younger person right after her first live concert -- somebody who had only heard music in the MP3 format -- at the moment when she goes from hearing in black and white to full, across-the-spectrum colour. There is simply no comparison.

Few bands with any claims to musicianship have benefited from the MP3 (notwithstanding the whole swift global dissemination of music thing). Don't get me wrong -- I love MP3s, in all their free-music, digital goodness. But when you take a band like Sigur Rós, which relies almost entirely on the sheer spatial hugeness of its sound, and condense all of that to zeroes and ones, and then force it through the tiny earphones Apple packages with its iPod... well, by that point you're basically holding a tin can with a string tied to a phonogram.

A couple weeks ago, I went to Seattle to see Andrew Bird and was once again blown away by his quiet dedication to showmanship. Having seen him before, I knew what to expect and was not disappointed. But his opening act, Loney, Dear, who resembled nothing so much as a group of Swedish muppets -- all heads, arms and flapping instruments -- was a revelation. Had I only ever listened to the MP3s on Loney, Dear's site, I probably would have dismissed it as too twee (and for me that's saying something). Live, in front of me, with vocal harmonies often taking the place of the instruments on record, it won me over.

Benefiting especially from the live treatment was "I Am John," a song so Simon and Garfunkel-esque, I swore it was a cover. The recorded version, at least as an MP3, is tinny sounding and muddled, while the live version soared with a heavier brush beat. Even though you could understand far less of main man and lead vocalist Emil Svanängen's rapid-fire lyrics, it felt like you heard more.

Harmonies took centre stage for "I Was Only Going Out," which is lovely as a recorded song but turns positively anthemic on stage. Drummer Ola Hultgren does more with less drums (his kit couldn't have had more than four tubs) than seems reasonable, while off to the side, another band member is playing his mike stand while providing bell-like vocalizations. It's strange and beautiful and something that demands to be experienced in person.

As the music industry begins to collapse from within, a serpent not content with eating just its own tail but going for its sides and back as well, one thing remains true: nothing sells music like a good live performance. (Unfortunately, due to custom regulations, Loney, Dear had no albums for sale.)

For more live Loney, Dear, check out their Ukulele Session video. Unfortunately again, like Andrew Bird, Loney, Dear have no scheduled Canadian dates.

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