The New Pornographers
Saturday, June 19
The last time I saw the New Pornographers, they were on tour with Belle and Sebastian and disappointingly bereft of both Dan Bejar and our favorite leading lady, Neko Case. Fortunately, they decided to take the title of their latest album, Together, seriously.
Impromptu sing-alongs aside, the power-pop band’s live set is as well constructed and executed as their songwriting. Frontman A.C. Newman led the ensemble through 23 songs from all five albums — the title tracks from Mass Romantic, Twin Cinema, and Challenger included — with little room for banter, save a sarcastically aggressive jab or two at the audience. Specifically, we learned that overzealous fans should never clap during an especially pensive rendition of “Adventures in Solitude” — Newman will look in your direction and demand that you “Stop it. No, seriously, stop it.” Though he did allow the crowd to sing “Happy Birthday” to keyboardist Kathryn Calder, leaving everyone thoroughly amused. “That was some adorable goth!” exclaimed Neko Case in response to the muddled roar that resulted.
Yes, Neko Case. Basked in the red-and-blue glow of the lights, the singer proved that the band is just not the same without her, even in her limited supporting role. What good is “The Bleeding Heart Show” without her leading the grand finale? (Sorry, Kathy.) As usual, fans screamed declarations of love at every pause, and the lady graciously dodged their affections. (“They’re probably giving me a court summons.”) Even on new, less familiar songs from Together, including the upbeat and breezy “Crash Years,” Neko on lead vocals is enough to keep you swooning for days afterward. (Furthermore, this time there were no “I’ll pummel your fucking face” moments.)
Really though, Dan Bejar’s presence was the ultimate gift of the night. To our giddy delight, he wandered onstage (as Darth Vader’s Imperial Death March played in the background) for “Jackie,” then wandered off again. This repeated for several songs, his long curls in his eyes and his back to the audience the second he stopped singing. His voice remains wonderfully odd, like a cartoon character’s, bringing a touch of manic urgency to “Jackie Dressed In Cobras” and a twang that earnestly drives the chorus of no‘s that closes out “Testament to Youth in Verse.” The latter closed out the night, too, as the crowd of thousands chanted along — crescendoing theatrically with provocation from Newman – for an entirely appropriate cinematic ending to the whole thing. Oh, New Pornographers, you’ll never get old to me.