The Gothic Theatre
November 5, 2007
by Mark Tatum
One of the effects of the new music-making environment we find ourselves in today, where it is so easy for artists to record and release new songs, has been an explosion of “supergroups.” Musicians from various bands get together to work on a song or album together. Some of these groups have produced exceptional music while others seem to have been simply an excuse for friends to get together.
photo by D.L.
I arrived at the Gothic Theater an hour before the doors opened because The New Pornographers are undoubtedly the best of these supergroups. It was a chance to see several artists on one stage, all of whom have proven they can stand on their own.
Also touring with the New Pornographers were Emma Pollock and Immaculate Machine, who are worth seeing on their own. It promised to be a really good night. Finally the doors opened to let us escape the cold breeze and we got a spot near the stage.
At 9 pm Immaculate Machine came on stage and began their set. I had seen them two years before and they seemed much more confident this time. Their new album has received a lot of attention, but for me they didn’t manage to connect on stage the way they do on their album. Perhaps it was because they were at the end of this tour and they were tired. Maybe they need to be physically closer on the stage. Both Kathryn Calder and Brooke Gallupe are obviously talented and at least are fun to watch.
Kathryn Calder of Immaculate Machine. Photo by kmb187
Emma Pollock was a member of one of my favorite groups, The Delgados, who disbanded a couple of years ago. She struck out on a solo career and just released her first solo album. She is touring the US with a full band, hopefully introducing a whole lot of people to her voice and mood-setting songwriting.
Her first notes brought a smile and her easy confidence spilled into her guitar. Her new songs are enticing the first time, yet complicated enough to reward repeated listening. Her voice has a calming effect and just listening to her can make you feel good. But it is her songwriting that really sets her apart from all the other pretty voices out there. It was a joy to watch her play again.
Emma Pollock. Photo by Jeremy Farmer Photog
Few artists could follow up the talent of Emma Pollock, but the headliner was The New Pornographers, maybe the most talented indie-rock band we have today.
Their sound is driven by A.C. (Carl) Newman, whose guitar takes center stage along with the songs he writes for the group. Other luminaries on stage included Neko Case, whose career continues to soar, Dan Bejar, whose solo work goes by the name of Destroyer, drummer Kurt Dahle, and Kathryn Calder of Immaculate Machine. Sometimes there were nine musicians on stage.
But much of the focus is on Newman, who writes most of the songs and plays a guitar that dominates (in a good way) most of the songs on stage. Their new album has lots of different instruments, but their live performance keeps to the basic indie-rock instrumentation (just lots of it).
Carl Newman. Photo by Jeremy Farmer Photog
The New Pornographers are masters of 3-minute pop-rock songs. Every song they played, from “All The Things That Go To Make Heaven and Earth” to the last encore was a piece of art and I’m beginning to wonder if any other band from this decade can come close to their catalog of great songs.
Of course what makes it all work is the professionalism of the musicians as they play together. Newman sang a couple of songs. Then Dan Bejar came out (with a beer in his hand, of course) and sang “Myriad Harbour” which is a perfect example of this group’s unselfish nature. This song may be Dan’s best yet, but instead of keeping it to himself he made it a part of the New Pornographers portfolio and by doing so they made it even better.
Dan Bejar. Photo by kmb187
Neko Case is so interesting to watch and listen to. She seemed more comforatable than the last time I saw them together. On many of the songs she plays backup singer and she adds so much to those parts and is a big reason for the overall strength of their performances.
Neko Case. Photo by kmb187
When they had first came on stage they seemed exhausted. This was the last show on their US tour and they have been going at it for quite awhile. But instead of plodding through the songs, they seemed to be energized by them as they went further into their set. Their fatigue seemed to be washed away by the music and by the time they got to “The Bleeding Heart Show,” their show-ending anthem, they had infected us all with their energy.
What makes them so good is their ability to stand together, to put away their individual egos and just make really good music together. It was a pleasure to watch them and hopefully they will continue to get together once in awhile to make some more great music.
New Pornographers Set List:
All the Things That Go To Mae Heaven and Earth
All the Old Showstoppers
Jackie, Dressed In Cobras
The Laws Have Changed
The Spirit of Giving
My Rights Versus Yours
Adventures in Solitude
Testament to Youth in Verse
Sing Me Spanish Techno
The Bleeding Heart Show
+2 encore songs