Live Review: The New Pornographers at Moore Theatre 4/15

Local Music, Live Reviews
Gabe Pollak
all photos by Bebe Labree Besch (view set)

A band is like a marriage; the divorce rate for groups started two decades ago is high. Add in more members, each with significant side projects, and the odds of a split only climb higher. By all estimates then, The New Pornographers, formed twenty years ago in Vancouver, B.C., by players from a handful of then-burgeoning indie bands, should not have lasted long enough to play at the Moore Theatre on Saturday, April 15. And yet, seven albums later, with their core lineup mostly intact, there the band came, eight musicians charging the stage to play power pop anthems for a nearly sold-out crowd.

The band immediately tore into "High Ticket Attractions," the lead single from their latest album, Whiteout Conditions. During the chorus, frontman A.C. Newman swapped lines with keyboardist Kathryn Calder from across the stage. "This thing could both ways," he began as a backing track took the song into overdrive. "Won't be another exit for days," Calder chimed back, presiding stage left over a keyboard stand adorned in neon lights.

Though "High Ticket Attractions," fits neatly amongst the best of The New Pornographers' catalogue, showcasing everything fans love about their music (fast tempos, witty wordplay, and irresistible harmonies), the band's performance of the song two Saturday's ago suggested that they were still shaking off the nerves of performing Whiteout Conditions live.

On Whiteout Conditions' title track, for instance, Newman's vocals were buried beneath a cascade of synthesized sounds. During album closer, "Avalanche Alley," touring vocalist/violinist Simi Stone, striking a pair of drum sticks together next to Newman, flubbed her syncopated part. Mirroring Stone on the other side of Newman, Neko Case, known for her alternative country solo career, stared up at the ceiling, as if trying to block any visual distractions from throwing her focus from the challenging rhythm. Fair enough. Whiteout Conditions came out but a few months ago and it was only their third show of the tour.

By comparison, the band blazed through songs from their 2014 album, Brill Bruisers, nailing every three-part harmony and hard-stop ending with conviction. The band stepped up and down at all the right moments on "Backstairs," highlighting the song's tense harmonies, while Case sounded extraordinary on "Champions of Red Wine," belting each line up to the Moore's ornate ceiling.

Much of the band's older material aged just as well. During "Sing Me Spanish Techno," from 2005's Twin Cinema, a woman in the pit closed her eyes, listening close. She swayed back and forth with one hand in the air, feeling the spirit at the power pop altar. Behind her, a section of attendees who had been reluctant to stand, decided to briefly raise themselves. The melodies were probably just as sweet as the memories that they conjured for fans.

Newman even took a moment - 30 seconds to be exact - to bask in the joy of getting the band together year after year. "Can we just get a 30 second applause break?" Newman asked. "These people are my best friends," he said, beaming like a kid at show and tell. Case curtsied and Newman clapped with his arms out in front of him like the jaws of a crocodile. Though Dan Bejar, another founding member, was notably absent, working on material for a new Destroyer record, it was still a sweet moment. "We're going for maximum love," said Newman, before beginning Challengers lullaby "Adventures in Solitude."

The rest of the night was less sentimental. In fact, the show occasionally lacked a sense of urgency, a possible side effect of the band's longevity. No song made this more apparent than the night's closer, "The Bleeding Heart Show," from Twin Cinema. As the band reached the song's euphoric, two minute-long outro - it's basically the singalong to end singalong's - many mouths remained shockingly shut. Sure, most people don't come to a concert to sing, but the fact that "The Bleeding Hearts Show" didn't change their minds was a big surprise. And that's okay. Bands change, fans change, but at least they stick together. The New Pornographers have already beat the odds, and, as far as this tour goes, they're just getting started. Either way, that's cause for celebration.

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