The New Pornographers are a hard band not to like. Once a one-off project for a bunch of Canadian musicians and country chanteuse Neko Case, they have become
indie superstars, and their power pop thrills music nerds and the mainstream alike. So it was no surprise that the Wonder Ballroom was packed Sunday night for their show.
While the hipster mafia was well represented, there were just as many girls in halter-tops and John Mayer-looking louts in A&F gear. If The New Pornographers were signed to a major label, they’d be huge – Norah Jones huge.
Immaculate Machine opened the show. If it wasn’t such a waste of money, I’d recommend everyone go out and buy the Immaculate Machine’s Ones and Zeros and Rainer Maria’s A Better Version Of Me just for the sheer hilarity of playing them side-by-side. Since I was too poor to afford anything more than a cup of Miller High Life, the band’s set was torture.
My recipe for enjoying Immaculate Machine is six beers, four well drinks and enough Colonodine to convince yourself you’re listening to Rainer Maria. But that combination might kill you, so maybe it’s best to avoid both bands like the plague. I spent most of Immaculate Machine’s set wishing the bar took debit so I could hate the band through a screen of serene drunkenness.
Next up was Destroyer, fronted by The New Pornographers’ sometime-singer Dan Bejar. Of medium height with wild black hair and a heavy five o’clock shadow, Bejar is not your average front man. Barely speaking to the crowd, he looked a little put off that most members of the audience had probably never heard of his band.
If you want an idea of what Destroyer sounds like, imagine the Village Green-era Kinks if they weren’t catchy and if Ray Davies wrote lyrics like Stephen Malkmus. And if you can’t imagine that description, you probably wouldn’t like Destroyer. The highlight of the set was the jangling guitar solos of Bejar and his lead guitarist, all reverb-heavy and spring day sprightly. Fun fact: the band went the entire set without playing one single song off This Night, the only album of theirs I own.
And then, finally, the New Pornographers. Sometimes Kathryn Calder, Immaculate Machine’s frontwoman, takes over for Neko Case, so I was nervous I’d miss out on Case’s electric vocals and gorgeous harmonies with The New Pornographers frontman and lead songwriter Carl Newman. Thankfully, as the band walked onstage, Case was among them. Within seconds, the band launched into “Twin Cinema,” the title song I like off an album I don’t. Immediately I became worried the band’s set would be far too Twin Cinema-heavy, but my fears were soon assuaged as the band blasted their way through “From Blown Speakers” off The Electric Version. While hearing the band on record is exciting, the thrill of seeing them live is unmatched. Songs with magnificent end parts like “Mass Romantic” and “The Bleeding Heart Show,” and “The Laws Have Changed” almost explode with hooks, harmonies and livewire keyboards, and the crowd couldn’t help but flail around in ecstasy.
Cheesy as it sounds, the feeling inside the crowd felt like some sort of communion, with all in attendance worshiping at the altar of pop. Even the songs I didn’t like off Twin Cinema felt much more vital and fun without all the pointless over-production. “These Are the Fables,” a song I found underwritten and ponderous on the album, was transformed into a gem by Case’s brash delivery. Even a broken string on Carl Newman’s guitar couldn’t stop the show, with Case telling Vancouver jokes (What does a Vancouver girl do when she wakes up? Go home) and joking about the band having their own therapist a la “Some Kind of Monster.” After Newman fixed his string, the band launched into an amazing version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” with Case sounding so much like Stevie Nicks it was eerie.
I wholeheartedly recommend The New Pornographers live experience to anyone who likes pop music. You know all that press about how transcendent Polyphonic Spree shows are? Well, The New Pornographers shows are transcendent without the added bonus of cheesy Jim Jones robes. But make sure you get a ticket to a show that features Neko Case or you’re in for New Pornographers lite.