Saturday, March 04, 2006

Belle and Sebastian and The New Pornographers at the Nokia (3/3/2006)

Yesterday I went to see Belle and Sebastian and The New Pornographers at the Nokia Theater in Times Square. As I mentioned a while back, this is a big month for concerts, and it's gotten even bigger since than. I've got Jenny Lewis coming up on March 19, and two days before that, Elysian Fields are playing and I want to check that out. I discovered them because Jennifer Charles, their vocalist, worked on Lovage with Dan the Automator. I'd love to hear a Lovage track from them, but pretty much all their stuff has a smoky, noir trip hop flavor that's quite good. And then on March 20, Annie is doing a show at Mercury Lounge. I've heard she isn't great live, but perhaps she's improved since then, and besides, her songs are great, so it should be entertaining enough.

But of all these, the concert I was looking forward to the most was definitely B&S and the New Pornos. I saw Belle and Sebastian back at Across the Narrows, which was a really fun show, but at a festival the bands had a lack of control over the environment and setting, it's not quite the experience they would have playing their own show. And I missed The New Pornographers when they were in the fall because I had school, but I'm a huge fan of their stuff, so I was psyched to see them as well.

Before to the concert, I went to a CD signing at Virgin Records in Union Square. All of Belle and Sebastian was there and I got The Life Pursuit signed. It was a pretty assembly line affair, when you've got seven people to sign the thing, it's tough to move people through quickly, but I talked to Mick, their trumpeter, a bit about the trumpet work on "I Love My Car," my favorite Belle and Sebastian song. Apparently, they brought in a jazz band to back up on the song, which explains why it's different from their other stuff. I was wondering where all those additional instruments came from.

So, after that I went over to the Nokia and literally sat on the floor for an hour and a half waiting for the show to start. I hadn't been to the Nokia before, and after last night, it's definitely my favorite venue in the city. Walking into it, it seems like you're walking into a UFO and the whole thing is laid out nicely. And on top of that, the sound was fantastic, it was loud enough, but with none of the distortion you usually get at a live performance. Everything was smooth and really easy to listen to, so great work on that, Nokia. Also, because I got there early, I was able to get a spot right in the front and center. The only gripe I have about the show is that the people next to me wouldn't shut up, they would talk all through the song then yell stuff at the band during the break. But, I moved away from them midway through Belle and Sebastian. Honestly, why go to the show and stand in the front if you're going to spend all your time talking about random stuff.

Anyway, enough of that. I'm going to try to remember the setlists as best I can, but these aren't necessarily all the songs, or in the correct order. But I can guarantee that's what down here was played.

The New Pornographers
Star Bodies//Use It//The Bones of an Idol//The Bleeding Heart Show//Jackie, Dressed in Cobras//Mass Romantic//
Three or Four//Laws Have Changed//The Body Says No//Twin Cinema//The Jessica Numbers//Testament to Youth in Verse//
Sing Me Spanish Techno//Letter from an Occupant

As most any article about this performance will discuss, this was The New Pornographers without Neko Case, and, at least on record, Neko has a voice that isn't really matched by the keyboardist who subbed for her here, though she certainly performaned admirably at a task that wasn't made any easier by the fact that the setlist featured most of the signuate Neko songs. The setlist was mostly tilted towards stuff off of Twin Cinema, but there may be a couple of earlier songs I'm missing here.

Still, The New Pornos are a band where pretty much every song is good, and then there's a few that go above and beyond. So even though my favorite album of theirs is The Electric Version, and they only played two songs off of it, I wasn't in any way unsatisfied by their performance here. They don't have any bad songs, and pretty much everything they've got translates well live.

I thought their performance was fantastic, just great musicianship throughout. However, the crowd wasn't that into them. I think it's tough being an opening band, while I was looking forward to both acts equally, it was pretty clear that most of the crowd was primarily Belle and Sebastian fans, and as a result, there wasn't as much intensity to the set as could have been. This was probably also due to the fact that they seemed to take a minute or so between songs just hanging around, doing some banter with the audience. This led to some funny moments, but there wasn't the sense of really getting caught up in the action that I got from Belles' set later. The highlight of this banter stuff was definitely the improptu rendition of "Eye of the Tiger," if they were ever to do a covers album, that would be an ideal selection.

The highlight for me was definitely "A Testament to Youth in Verse." At one point in the show, Newman announced they were going to play it, then switched songs, so I was worried that it wouldn't make an appearance. However, shortly after, they broke it out and it was easily the highlight of their set. The vocal round at the end of the song was amazing, hitting on some Polyphonic Spree territory. Other highlights were "The Body Says No," and "Letter From an Occupant."

On the whole, it was an excellent performance, and I'd love to see them at a solo show, where more of the crowd knows their material.

Belle and Sebastian
Expecations//Another Sunny Day//Sukie in the Graveyard//Electronic Renaissance//Women's Realm//The Boy Done Wrong Again//The Blues are Still Blue//Like Dylan in the Movies//Act of The Apostle I//Piazza, New York Catcher//Your Cover's Blown//Funny Little Frog//To Be Myself Completely//I'm a Cuckoo//The Wrong Girl//White Collar Boy//Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying//Judy and the Dream of Horses//You're Just a Baby//

This was a really phenomenal performance. Coming after The New Pornos, who were good, but seemed less than confident, it was refreshing to see Stewart come out and really take control of the audience. Early on, there was a bit of disengagement, but by the end everyone in the audience seemed to be completely wrapped up in the performance.

I think that's largely due to the choice in the setlist. Early on, there were a lot of slower, more acoustic songs, while towards the end we started to see a lot more of the singalong anthemic stuff, like "I'm a Cuckoo" and "White Collar Boy." I'm not that familiar with Tigermilk, so I recognized the first song, but wasn't quite sure what it was, and it was a rather slow note to start on, and "Another Sunny Day," a song I really like on the album, didn't really ignite the crowd when done live. I'm not sure if it was next, but "Sukie" came pretty early in the set and was fantastic live. It was clear that a lot of people were really into the new album, since people were singing along to those songs as much as they were to the "Sinister" era classics. Sukie should definitely be kept around for future tours, it was one of the highlights of the show.

The low point for me was "The Boy Done Wrong Again," a really slow song that just sucked momentum out of the show. Now, people may like that song, but I think few would consider something that plays well live. However, a lot of people still seemed stuck in the old mode, notably the guy who shouted out "First three albums" as a request. In terms of live performance, I'd rather see stuff from 2000 or later, from Fold Your Hands Child... on. I think those are better songs, but also they use a lot more of what the band has to offer. Again, I was surprised by how many instruments they all played, there was constant switching around, often leaving one person shaking a percussion instrument that looked like an orange.

In the second half of the show, they brought out some of their best songs, and I got completely wrapped up in what they were doing. "Your Cover's Blown" was a high point, as was "White Collar Boy," a good song on the album, but one of their best live. It reminded me of how "If You Find Yourself Caught in Love" went over at the Across the Narrows show. And I've got to give props to Mick Cooke on trumpet, he elevated every song he played on.

This was definitely one of the best shows I've been to. The band seemed to be having a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed it too. I hope they do another pass through the States in support of this album because I'd love to see them again, and I don't want to wait two or three years for them to finish another album.

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