Friday, August 04, 2006

The New Pornographers @ Summerstage

Setlist (Approximate):
Twin Cinema//Use It//July Jones//Laws Have Changed//Jackie Dressed in Cobras//The Bleeding Heart Show//The Jessica Numbers//Mass Romantic//Testament to Youth in Verse//Miss Teen Wordpower//Bones of An Idol//It's Only Divine Right//Fake Headlines//Graceland//From Blown Speakers//Slow Descent into Alcoholism//Sing Me Spanish Techno

Star Bodies//Jackie//Execution Day//Letter from An Occupant

Back in March, I saw The New Pornographers open for Belle & Sebastian. They put on a solid show, but were undercut by the fact that the crowd was mostly just waiting for them to finish. So, I left with the impression that The New Pornographers were one of those bands that does fantastic records, and alright live shows. So, I was actually a bit unsure about going to this show, but I caught a good deal on Craigslist, so off I went.

The two opening bands were pretty solid. The Frames had really sweeping rock, a bit like Doves, but with a violin. They got a really strong crowd response and even did an encore, the first time I've seen an opening band do one. And I also really enjoyed Calexico, despite not being familiar with their work beforehand. They had a wide variety of instruments, cello, two trumpets, xylophone, accordian and the secret weapon, a Mexican singer who dropped some great vocals on a couple of songs. Their two trumpeters were great, doing some really nice team solos. The highlight for me was a cover of Love's "Alone Again Or."

Before getting into the show itself, I'll just note that Summerstage was a really nice venue. The sound quality was great and there was plenty of room. Plus, I got a spot front and center, one person back from the stage. I've been to many shows and I almost always enjoy the ones where I'm front a lot more than ones where I'm drifting around the back. It may be annoying to have to stand in place for a long time, but it's worth it to get there early and secuere a good spot.

With the first notes of their first song, the band wiped away any of my lukewarm feelings about their Nokia show. They ripped into Twin Cinema, speeding it up and turning it into a really tight anthem. One of their best songs, 'Use It' followed, in another fantastic rendition. They had a ton of energy, most of it provided by the drummer. He was playing pretty fast and this forced everyone else to put more energy in to keep pace. This isn't to say that every song was on speed, rather he kept things moving and the energy level high.

It's a huge difference watching a band as a headliner as opposed to being an opening act. Here, everyone was there to see The New Pornographers and that means that people are much more familiar with the songs and will dance or sing along in the audience. I think the crowd's enthusiasm means the band has to raise the bar to match and in this case, they certainly kept things going.

The highlight of the set was "The Bleeding Heart Show." Like a lot of New Porno songs, this one has a lot of segments. There's the subdued opening verses, the speedy, cascading b section ("We quit the room...") until it finally breaks into the wonderful, layered harmonizing of the finale, where "Hey La"s are layered over Kathryn's vocals. It's such a journey, I was completely absorbed in the song and the final segment was absoultely beautiful.

There's a similar structure on my favorite New Pornos song, "A Testament to Youth in Verse," which was another highlight. I love the round of "NoNoNos" that finish the song. The best moments in their work are almost always when vocals are layered, with some of them singing repeated syllables over one person's verse.

The opening of this show was so strong there was bound to be a little dip in the middle, but they roared back for the finale with "Slow Descent into Alcoholism" and "Sing Me Spanish Techno." I love the "Travelling at Godspeed" section of "Spanish Techno," and the way it segues into the "Listening too long to one song..." part. All of their songs have three or four sections that could be incredibly catchy hooks on a song, but combined they become supercatchy monsters.

Between listening to the albums again to get prepped for the show and seeing the show itself, I think it's pretty clear that Twin Cinema is their best album. I think each of their albums has improved on the previous one, but Twin Cinema adds a layer of darkness to the previously sunny world. The songs are still very catchy, but there's a bit more variation in tone and sound. It's a standout album.

For the encore, they broke out one of my favorite tracks off The Electric Version, "Execution Day." It was weird to hear the drummer taking lead vocals, at first his high voice was a bit jarring, but once I got used to it, his vocals were a nice way to mix things up. "Letter From an Occupant" was the perfect set closer, the non-words vocal part of the chorus is phenomenal and I walked out of the venue humming this song.

So, I was really impressed by The New Pornos performance here. They had tons of energy and were totally engaging, dropping most of their best songs, though they're a band where pretty much every song is something I'd want to hear. I'm really glad I saw them a second time and got to see them as headliners, at their best.

And there's the back of my head towards the bottom right of this pic up above.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great review, Patrick. I disagree with your take on the Pornos -- I don't think they started well at all -- but I really like how you get into the structure of the tunes.

My writeup is here.