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The New Pornographers– best…live show…ever?

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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.

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About Charles Murtaugh

  • http://www.resonation.ca Jim Carruthers

    Curses, I am at this very moment listening to The New Pornographers, and going “dammit Jim, I’m a listener, not a fan” or something like that to put off writing something about this excellent group and their fine album.

    Blown speakers! Yes, that’s my excuse!

    I blew my speakers listening to “Electric Version” and they electrocuted the dog which ate my homework.

  • http://robbedbyafountainpen.blogspot.com BJ

    I’ve been planning to write about their show too – I saw them at Bimbo’s (San Francisco) a couple of weeks back and had a blast. They brought an air guitarist up on stage about 3/4 of the way through, and after the song when he started to jump down, they brought him back – and then brought his friend to play bass. By the end of the show, they had full air band going – one air musician for each actual musician, including air singers. For the last song, the air singer had his arm around the actual keyboardist singing into a beer bottle. Good fun.

    No Heart, no Beatles, but they had this: “… born and raised in SOUTH DEtroooit …” until they ran out of words they knew.

    Unfortunately, the sound sucked and only incrementally improved as the show went along. Three good (one great) singers and we could hardly hear them over the rhythm section. You could hear Neko, but then she doesn’t need amplification at all.

  • The Theory

    i’ve been planning to pick up the new cd because i loved Blacklisted…

    now i wanna see them live.

    peace.

  • derf

    I saw them on the tour for Mass Romantic in Sacramento. They were awesome as always, and I will never forget shaking Neko’s hand afterwards. (Note to self: must wash hand sooner or later).

    At one point in the show the club bouncers were hassling some people dancing near the stage. Of course the band did not take too kindly to it. It shortly evloved into a great rendition of “Footloose” which sent the crowd into tears of laughter and dancing.
    This is obviously a band that will knows all kinds of music and enjoys playing “covers” at the drop of a hat if it sounds like a fun idea.

    derf

  • Aaron

    Well, yesterday I heard a 15 second byte of a song which was played at the end of a sports show on tv here in Australia. I had to know what this beautiful tune was so I googled the lyrics I could remember. It turned out to be “All For Swinging You Around” from Electric Version. Today I rushed to my favourite music store and bought it. To my utter delight, the album also contained about three other songs which I’d heard on my University radio station and desperately wished I’d known what this band was. Well now I know and my faith in the beauty of pop has been totally restored. As if that were not enough, I have more albums to buy from this sublime band. The New Pornographers have bumped Liz Phair’s “Whip Smart” album off the top of my CD stack where it has ruled my collection since I bought it eight years ago. Since I live in the most isolated capital city in the world, I am now saving my meagre student dollars to get my butt to see this sublime band. Ok enough of my praise….your turn!

  • http://manuelhp42.blogspot.com manny hernandez

    I just saw The New Pornographers live in Orlando and was blown away too.

  • dave

    Sorry to let you know, that wasn’t Niko at the Firestone.