On a cold Monday night in New York City, it took a while to warm up, but warm up it did. Vancouver’s The New Pornographers came to New York’s massive Terminal 5 (QRO venue review) on December 6th while much of the country was in the middle of a severe cold snap, the first of the season. The collective’s power-pop took some time to really pop, but when it did, it did, along with some of the best stage banter ever.
The New Pornographers’ latest, Together (QRO review), eschews some of the effects and theatrics that characterized their prior release, 2008’s Challengers (QRO review), and so did the band’s set in the beginning. Opening with Together opener “The Moves”, the band sounded sonically together, but lacked some fire, which carried on through “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism” and “It’s Only Divine Right” (from first two records Mass Romantic and Electric Version, respectively). Even Together standout “The Crash Years” seemed a little less than crashing. The show really didn’t start until Challengers‘s “All the Old Showstoppers”, which was preceded by singer/guitarist A.C. Newman (QRO solo album review) introducing the band, “We’re The New Pornographers, and we’re not sure where we’re from anymore.” Newman advocated saying “Earth” or “North America,” but singer Neko Case (QRO album review) replied that it should be “Mother Earth.” Newman replied, “Mother Earth and Father North America had a baby, ant it was us,” to which Case followed up, “They had a baby, and then they froze the umbilical cord in the freezer, and then they ate it.” That wasn’t to be the last odd-but-funny line from Ms. Case.
The New Pornographers playing “All the Old Showstoppers” live at Terminal 5 in New York, NY on December 6th, 2010:
The New Pornographers are something of a ‘super-group’, composed of musicians who are solo artists in their own right; sort of a Western Canadian version of Toronto’s Broken Social Scene (QRO spotlight on), with Newman the Kevin Drew-esque metropole for the group. Case is the most successful, more so than Newman even (putting her in the Feist – QRO live review – role), but the band also includes singer/guitarist Dan Bejar, a.k.a. Destroyer, and Newman’s niece Kathryn Calder, of Immaculate Machine (QRO live review), and who recently put out her own solo record, Are You My Mother? (QRO review). However, that night Bejar was away on Destroyer duties (“Serving in the Spanish Civil War,” Newman mock-explained, “Is that still going?”), and Calder, the newest/youngest member of the band, far to the stage-left on her keyboard, was less ready to chime in, leaving the banter to Newman, Case, and drummer Kurt Dahle (Age of Electric, The Awkward Stage, and drummer for Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla’s solo record, Field Manual – QRO review).
Newman naturally had the most interaction with the audience, especially with regards to crowd requests, including telling one fan requesting “Fake Headlines” that “Showstoppers” is basically the same song (“Your request has been fulfilled, sir…”), while another request was “harder to play” and was basically “Letters To an Occupant” backwards. To yet another request, Newman replied that they always play that song, and that, “We should post that on our website, ‘Here are the songs you shouldn’t bother requesting. I can promise you we will play them.’” Before Electric Version‘s “Miss Teen Wordpower”, Newman said that, “A girl tweeted me [for this song], and I could sense she was in need.” Case added, “I wish she would have tweeted me; then I could have learned the song…”
The New Pornographers playing “Twin Cinema” live at Terminal 5 in New York, NY on December 6th, 2010:
Dahle, meanwhile, seemed to banter most the other band members, such as his arguing with Newman over whether or not opener Ted Leo & The Pharmacists (QRO photos) played the Slow Food Festival with them. But the best banter was easily from Case. Midway through the set, after a strong and energetic trio of Challengers‘s “Adventures In Solitude”, Twin Cinema‘s title track, and Together‘s “Sweet Talk Sweet Talk” (no song was more improved, live vs. on record, than “Sweet Talk”), and Newman’s discussion of what songs the band will always play, Case threw a random curveball, as she discussed why she was going to die in twelve hours, her horrible week, how The New Pornographers travel, being 40, and more – including an off-hand reference to just getting dumped:
MP3 Stream: “Terminal 5 banter”
[note: Case’s flight, and those of the rest of The New Pornographers, all made touched down safely in London]
Dahle’s chime about the difficulties of being forty-three managed to one-up even Case (Calder wisely didn’t follow up Newman’s request to tell everyone what it’s like being twenty-eight…), but it was all certainly “The most surreal explosion I’ve ever seen on any stage, ever,” as Newman put it, and deserved some kind of award.
Deserve it, “Don Rickles, over there” did (someone in the crowd shouted, “More banter!” at one point), but how about giving her a guitar on stage? Certainly adept with an axe (she even played on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle… – QRO Indie on Late Night TV), the tambourine Case had instead really didn’t provide her with enough to do when not singing lead, and songstress is hardly one of those extra ‘tambourine girls’ you’ll see on stage. When Calder joined the group, Case was on temporary leave for her solo work, so Calder picked up not only the female vocal duties but also keyboards, and while Case has returned to lead female vocals, Calder retains the keys (and, at one point, accordion – “When she pulls out the accordion, that means she’s angry…” Uncle Carl opined), leaving the talented Case needing something else to do.
The New Pornographers playing “Your Hands Together” live at Terminal 5 in New York, NY on December 6th, 2010:
[note: Also, one has to wonder who exactly could ever dump Neko Case?!? Okay, she may have turned the big four-O, but she’s hardly turned into a prune. Admittedly, Calder may be getting the indie-crushes now – she’s kind of that uncompromising alt-girl that you wish you had the guts to admit you always liked, like Angela Chase or Hermione Grainger (in ten years) – but that just puts Case into the -ILF position (less [friend’s] ‘mom’, more [friend’s] ‘older sister’/‘young aunt’). Plus there’s Case’s personality, musical ability, and (most importantly) red hair…]
The New Pornographers playing “Challengers” live at Terminal 5 in New York, NY on December 6th, 2010:
If The New Pornographers’ New York show was somewhat subdued at first, it really got going, like an awkward party after people have had a few (or more) drinks. Bejar might not have been there, but the New Porn piece he penned for benefit compilation Dark Was the Night (QRO review), “Hey, Snow White”, was, with Newman even remarking to Case on the pick-you-up directed at the fairy tale lady (to which Case replied, “Yeah, because she believes in corporate greed!”). Though they skipped Challengers‘s great “My Rights Versus Yours” from the set list (QRO photo – due to the extended banter?…), the would-have-been-preceding “Your Hands Together” was maybe the best Together piece of the night, “Mass Romantic” more than made up for the skip, and the band went into the encore break with great renditions of Twin Cinema‘s “Use It” and “Bleeding Heart Show”. Encore return “Challengers” still had its sad, expansive power even after all the fun, “What Turns Up In the Dark” was another better-than-on-Together piece, and final closer “Sing Me Spanish Techno” had the audience singing when they left Terminal 5 for the cold December night, as they were nice and warm thanks to The New Pornographers.
The New Pornographers playing “Sing Me Spanish Techno” live at Terminal 5 in New York, NY on December 6th, 2010: