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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The New Pornographers, Feat. Neko Case, Serve Crisp Pop at Regency Ballroom

Posted By on Tue, Apr 19, 2011 at 8:47 AM

The New Pornographers at the Regency Ballroom last night.
  • The New Pornographers at the Regency Ballroom last night.
The New Pornographers 
April 18, 2011 
@ Regency Ballroom

Better than: Brunch at Zazie (maybe).

If nothing else, at least the New Pornographers will remember San Francisco for our breakfast.

Six songs into a speedy set at the Regency Ballroom last night, when the band finally took a pause from dashing out urgent indie-pop, the topic of (brief) discussion was the delights of cured pork -- recently experienced by Neko Case at S.F. breakfast hotspot Brenda's. But band member Kathryn Calder, whom Case accused of vegetarianism, preferred Zazie. "I almost cried it was so good," she swooned about yesterday's stop. Case asked whether we could smell the fatty pork sweating out of her. (Sadly, we couldn't -- and we were standing really close.)

The New Pornographers' Kathryn Calder
  • The New Pornographers' Kathryn Calder
Other than that, the New Pornos -- whose name still sounds so much more NC-17 than the band's kiddish three-chord gleams -- played straight and fast for an hour and 20 minutes, bolstered by the rare live presence of member/vocal firepower Neko Case. The Canucks came out all casual and calm -- Case in a knockaround hoodie and faded T-shirt, main songwriter Carl Newman in a button-up and cords -- but rolled out hits from five albums with the force of focused pros, blazing from one tune to the next.

All we heard 'em say besides bacon joy and a couple "thank you"s were song lyrics, but no problem there. The New Pornographers can unfurl some of the most un-hooky hooks in non-Top 40 pop, and last night we heard almost all of them, sped way up for the live show: "The Slow Descent into Alcoholism," "The Laws Have Changed," "Twin Cinema," "Sing Me Spanish Techno," and even newer songs like "Moves" -- which proved almost (though not quite) equal to the faster, bigger, older numbers everyone loves but that the band doesn't seem to write as much anymore. These tunes fired up urgently from the start, riding the bouncy drumwork of Kurt Dahle from one earworm section to the next like constant anthems speckled with Newman's agile falsetto. Some of them -- like maybe three out of 21 -- were slow; they came and passed without boredom or transcendence.

Neko Case, dressed up for the occasion
  • Neko Case, dressed up for the occasion
It was a special post-Coachella night for the band: Case was on hand last night to render the omnipotent sing-honk that contrasts so well with Newman's prissy sheen, and the vocal harmonies issuing from the Regency P.A. were unfailingly sweet. Calder, Newman's niece, was a slighter vocal presence, and Dan Bejar -- whose solo project, Destroyer, just put out one of the most acclaimed indie albums of 2011 -- didn't sing much at all. Maybe because Case was there, instead of off on her solo project like usual? Anyway, Case spent half the time last night haranguing the soundman for adjustments to her monitors -- each sideways wink a little more desperate, or embarrassed, or flirty -- but sounded golden to our ears. Especially on "Mass Romantic," which we just couldn't imagine hearing without her fearsomely strong voice.

Carl Newman
  • Carl Newman
We're spoiled, we guess, but it's actually hard to imagine hearing any of these songs live without Case. "The Bleeding Heart Show" -- arguably the best song in this band's catalog -- hit at the end like a giant airplane taking off on the winged harmonies of Case and Newman, soaring at the midway point when the whole band came in for the rollicking, "Hey La!" and gripping the ensuing flight of pop ecstasy for as long as possible. It got slightly better, even, during the encore's "Sing Me Spanish Techno" (is that their best song?), with the members all rushing but still Swiss Quartz-precise, threading kick-drum thumps between the woody voices of Case and Newman. It was joy -- sweet, bouncy, kinda sweaty pop joy, all elements immaculately well-placed. Let us hope they all come back soon, and not just for the breakfast.

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: Heavy favoritism for Zazie and Brenda's. Go there. (Or don't, and keep the waits shorter for those of us who can't stay away.)

  • Menomena
Opener: Menomena sounded fine for the four songs I heard -- not as big as at its headlining shows at Great American last year, but likeable nonetheless.

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