form a line to the throne

Fabulous show from the New Pornographers last night. Before I describe the show, some stocktaking: it is a near-indisputable fact that the New Pornographers, collectively and individually, completely own the past decade in terms of recordings. Aside from TNP’s own five albums, which each sound like greatest hits collections spiced with a couple-few intriguingly bizarre b-sides, there’s Dan Bejar’s six excellent Destroyer albums plus his collaborations with others, notably Swan Lake’s two albums, and Neko Case’s last two albums are idiosyncratic and powerful, and Carl “A.C.” Newman himself put out two fine solo albums.

So the band that started off describing itself semi-jokingly as a “supergroup” turns out to be one. When you can begin a show with a song as catchy and brilliant as “Sing Me Spanish Techno” (a song even bands that might have written a song that good would save for their encore), well, that was a good signal of what was to come. I hadn’t realized until seeing him live what a propulsive drummer Kurt Dahle is (he also contributes backing vocals – and, on “Adventures in Solitude,” does a circus act: he plays an acoustic guitar then rapidly swings it around behind him to play the drums). The band also managed to find one guy who played both cello and saxophone, thickening the sound (I’m pretty sure Carl Newman actually wants the band to be ELO – or, maybe, the ELO that would have been had Roy Wood stuck around). Dan Bejar slunk on and off stage seemingly at random, sometimes playing guitar on other band members’ songs and of course singing a few of his own. Speaking of Bejar, here’s a little story: I didn’t bother bringing my camera – figured nowadays everyone will have YouTube videos and Flickr photos that are better quality than mine anyway – but of course, two seconds after I wander to the back of the line waiting to get in, a free-range Bejar happened to wander past: if I’d had a camera I could have got a candid shot of him without a drink in his hand. Just standing there, he simply exuded charisma. I suspect he’s actually The Coolest Guy in the World.

It’s hard to isolate musical highlights – as I said, opening with “Spanish Techno” electrified the room, Neko Case sang a powerful “Mass Romantic,” the band slammed powerfully through a sped-up version of Bejar’s “Jackie, Dressed in Cobras.” And during the big ending of “The Bleeding Heart Show,” the whole house started singing along with the “hey-la” bit – it gave me chills. (Guessing setlist at the end)

There were two opening acts. The Dutchess and the Duke (they spell it that way) who at first were a bit dull – I mean, there are chords other than A, C, D, G, and E – but eventually, they built up a nice head of rather retro steam. Their shtick is, basically, it’s 1965, and Brian Jones is producing Sonny & Cher doing an album of Johnny Cash songs. This works if you can make the audience forget you’re a Professional Rock Band and instead seem like a bunch of friends sitting around playing music…and fortunately, that was exactly the air the band projected.

I’d heard the Dodos’ recordings and liked a lot of them – but their show was hugely energetic and propulsive: the band is two percussionists and an acoustic guitar player, and it actually wasn’t until the guitarist stepped on a distortion pedal at one point (briefly) that I realized that, otherwise, the whole show was acoustic. Ain’t yr grandma’s acoustic, though. I’d definitely recommend catching them as well.

Wild guess at setlist (in alphabetical order because I just went through the catalog trying to remember what they played):

  • Adventures in Solitude
  • All the Old Showstoppers
  • The Bleeding Heart Show
  • Challengers
  • Crash Years
  • Failsafe (?)
  • It’s Only Divine Right
  • Jackie
  • Jackie, Dressed in Cobras
  • The Laws Have Changed
  • Mass Romantic
  • Moves
  • Myriad Harbour
  • Silver Jenny Dollar
  • Sing Me Spanish Techno
  • The Slow Descent into Alcoholism
  • Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk (?)
  • Testament to Youth in Verse
  • Twin Cinema
  • Up in the Dark (?)
  • Use It
  • Your Hands (Together)

1 Comment

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One response to “form a line to the throne

  1. jonder

    When I first heard “Your Hands (Together)” I thought it would be a natural for a live concert opener. Great drumwork on that song, too.

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