The New Pornographers
July 18, 2010
The Fox Theater, Oakland
Better than: The old pornographers, presumably
As everybody who is not Canadian knows, the New Pornographers consist of the main guy, the weird guy, Neko Case, the other gal, the other guitarist, the drummer, the bassist, and -- who are we forgetting? That's not fair, but it is at least marginally more fair than just saying, "Neko and the rest of them."
Yes, they have names, and feelings, and talent, and more instruments than were audible in the muddily mixed echo tank of the Fox Theater last night -- which did not help with the anonymity issue. Nor did that one dude who kept shouting out requests for songs from Case's solo oeuvre, although he gets props for having had enough gumption (or Jack and Coke) to say what at least a few of us were thinking.
Even the Dodos, who opened, might have thought it. When that local trio's frontman Meric Long said, "We're gonna bring out a friend for the next one," and Case's warning-flash hair caught the further-reddening light, the whole crowd seemed to flare up with a blood-rush too. Then out came that titanic voice of hers, and we were done for.
Case later returned for 20 more numbers, plus three encores, with her own Vancouver-based alt-power-pop concern, cranking out its customarily hooky, kinky, warm, fuzzy, harmonically rich, rhythmically herky-jerky sound. Like any given New Pornographers album, the show was brilliant in bursts and otherwise shot through with clever-but-forgettable filler.The perfunctory warmups of "Sing Me Spanish Techno," from 2005's Twin Cinema, and "Up In the Dark," from Together, which dropped in May, seemed like glorified sound checks. And yet the band never could quite dig itself all the way out of the bottom-heavy mix. Finally, "Myriad Harbour," from 2007's Challengers, brought in some vitality -- thanks partly to the arrival of the aforementioned weird guy, Dan Bejar, wearing his poof of hair like a personal rain cloud. (Later he turned his back to the crowd and faced upstage. Then he left the stage altogether. Then he returned, but left again as soon as possible. It has been said that Bejar is shy, and generally does not enjoy touring. It will be said again.) Meanwhile, main guy A.C. Newman said hello and mentioned that it was the Pornographers' first time Oakland. "This is an unusually lively audience for us," he later added. He also attempted some between-song banter with Case, but that became variously muddled. As did the music.
At their best and most balanced, which is in fact slightly unbalanced, New Pornographers songs find a heretofore unknown sweet spot between new indie tweeness and old prog earnestness. It's as if they were concocted by the child of a tryst between Genesis fans at an early '80s Renaissance Faire. And with that in mind, this show could have used more odd, arty beauties like "Mutiny, I Promise You" or "Letter From an Occupant." Instead, the chirping call-and-response vocals and dribbles of dissonance in "Moves," for instance, seemed like warmings over of previously successful ploys, and were accordingly less easy to groove to. Perhaps this explains a largely motionless crowd, save for a few people bouncing in place like happy babies, or doing something worse. "I like the dancing couple to our right," one comparatively stoic reveler observed. "It's like she's having a seizure and he's helping."Still, for the occasional meh moments, pleasant surprises did abound. In "My Shepherd," what might normally have been a time-to-hit-the-bathroom ballad was transformed by the uplift of Case's voice. Actually, come to think of it, that's hardly a surprise. Well OK, so how about the revelation that the other gal, whose name is Kathryn Calder, might be just as crushworthy as Case?
By the way: After "Twin Cinema," when Case pointed out "a line about 16th and Valencia, which makes it a local song," she might have been asking the crowd why it hadn't issued the expected cheer. Maybe it's because those lyrics got lost in the din -- eh, sound guys?
Overheard in the crowd:
"There's this house on Broderick that every time we walk by, it totally reeks."
"All I know is, Microsoft's in dire need of...well, they're in dire need of everything."
Sing Me Spanish Techno
Up In the Dark
The Laws Have Changed
Jackie, Dressed in Cobras
Adventures in Solitude
Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk
All the Old Showstoppers
Your Hands (Together)
Silver Jenny Dollar
Bleeding Heart Show
Slow Descent into Alcoholism
Testament to Youth in Verse
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