Many of us have convinced ourselves that Cape Town, as far as South Africa is concerned, is the hub of music and art. But every time I head up north for work or pleasure, there are gigs I cannot bear to miss. This time it was Dear Reader at the Wits Theatre. A venue I had never been to, and a band listed in my personal top ten but which I [shock shock, horror horror] had never seen live before. It could have gone one of two ways, I guess, but not with this band. They love Europe, and Europe loves them too. But having just returned from the north [or do we say the ’west’?], Dear Reader made it quite clear that they love us, and home, too.
The Wits Theatre is an impressive venue and for those of us who usually see bands at dingy clubs filled with smoke and skinny-jeaned scenesters, this was a wonderful change. The theatre is large, the stage was draped in white and adorned with swans, hot air balloons and cellophane in bright blue and sunshine yellow. What is more, Dear Reader had their very own choir, dressed in white and and rocking from side to side with cardboard cloud cutouts in hand. It was harmonising brought to life, with some extraordinary voices that complemented Dear Reader without detracting from the music.
You will see an array of instruments at a Dear Reader gig. Above the usual drums, keyboard and guitars, the band also makes use of a cello, violin and even a banjo! The looping station man created some interesting vocal effects with vocalist Cherilyn MacNeil, and all-round the setup makes for an interesting change from your usual four-piece rock band. All members of the band ooze casual talent, evident by one member playing the banjo, violin and guitar all in one song. Cherilyn has a carefree air about her being on stage, and when addressing the audience she is almost awkward in her untailored casualness. But once the first notes of any song resound into the venue, it is a stark transition into an act that is so polished, so professional, one cannot help but utter the hated phrase that ‘They don’t even sound South African’. The only thing more beautiful than their lyrics is their music, and with dramatic build-ups set against moments so quiet you could barely hear the whispers of music, they had the crowd spellbound from start to finish. Dear Reader sets a new standard for local music, one which very few musicians are meeting. I am inch away from saying Dear Reader is the best band in the country.