All day, I’ve been fidgeting and restless, like St. Paul must have felt after his confrontation with the Lord: I must get the word out! The New Pornographers show last night was so goddamned good! (Perhaps language that Paul would have avoided.) Definitely the best show I’ve seen in the last year or two, possibly the best ever.
Their US tour is sadly winding down, and I think most of the remaining dates are sold out, but you can prepare yourself for their next go-round by listening to their remarkable CDs, the stunning debut Mass Romantic and its even-better follow-up The Electric Version. And for those of you lucky enough to have tickets for an upcoming show, I salute you in the spirit of AC-DC.
What made last night’s show such an extraordinary experience? One word: energy. The venue, Cambridge’s Middle East Nightclub, remains the best place to see live rock in Boston and one of the best in the country, and last night’s show was sold out and boisterous. The band’s joyous, high-spirited power-pop is perfectly suited for a small-mid-sized club audience, and the enthusiasm of the band pumped up the crowd and vice-versa: a perfect live show snowball effect.
I’m pretty sure they played every song from their two albums, but I was too busy having fun to keep track. Boston audiences can be staid and even dour, but there was a remarkable amount of dancing in yesterday’s crowd, so much so that lead singer Carl Newman actually summoned a kid out of the audience to dance on stage about halfway through the set. By the end of the set there were three more dancers, all just goofy fun-loving kids lost in the urgency of the rhythms, the razor-edge guitars and the extraordinary harmonies created by Newman, drummer Kurt Dahle and chanteuse extraordinaire Neko Case. (If I weren’t a married man, I might observe that simply watching Neko Case onstage for an hour-plus is worth the price of admission.)
This was a band in its prime of vigor and practically quivering with excitement about playing its music. (The above disclaimer applies to the experience of seeing Neko Case quiver.) About two-thirds through their set, Carl had broken strings on both his guitars, and had to step offstage to restring one. In the interim, Neko told a couple of funny stories, and then asked if the audience had questions.
“Do you know any Beatles?” someone shouted. “No,” Neko replied, and then a few seconds later the band ripped into the intro of “Paperback Writer.” As the vocals were about to kick in, Carl ran back onstage, and just as he started to sing the band cut off and left him in the lurch, to much laughter. He went back offstage to finish with his guitar, and someone else requested that they play some Heart. The lead guitarist kicked off the opening riff of “Barracuda,” and the rest of the band joined in, and Neko launched into a spine-tingling first verse and chorus, before cutting it short as she couldn’t remember any more of the words. It was obvious that all this was entirely spontaneous: like a racehorse galloping around its paddock, wanting more to race than to graze, this band wants to rock.
The crowd managed to coax three encores out of them, including that vanishingly-rare breed, the encore after the house lights have come on and the between-sets tape put on the PA. Afterwards we all stumbled into the cool late night air, trembling with excitement and the urge to spread the Good Word about the New Pornographers.