Above: The New Pornographers, Monday night at Liberty Hall.
Two days after Paul McCartney thrilled an audience at the Sprint Center, the New Pornographers demonstrated that the brilliant legacy of the former member of the Beatles endures during their riveting set at Liberty Hall. The 80-minute performance was a rousing recital of intelligent pop music, and by extension, the influence of McCartney.
The apotheosis of ambitious art-pop, the New Pornographers aren't single-minded Beatles devotees. They also update the classic work of the Beach Boys, the Shirelles and the Mamas & the Papas. Wilco is the only other contemporary act that has so masterfully consolidated the entirety of the pop-rock vocabulary.
The New Pornographers are often called a "Canadian rock supergroup," a characterization that must seem preposterous to people who aren't indie rock obsessives. Its failure to attain mass appeal, however, is not a reflection of the collective accomplishments of its members. Monday's lineup was nine strong -- they could have fielded a baseball team. Dan Bejar, however, would make for a most unreliable left fielder. He shuffled on and off Liberty Hall's stage seemingly at his own discretion. His loopy work on "Jackie, Dressed In Cobras" was imbued with a careless swagger.
The collective's best-known member is Neko Case. Her keening voice is one of the most valuable instruments in popular music. Case's lead vocals on the grand "Go Places" and the gorgeous "Challengers" made them evening's prettiest songs.
Less brassy but no less effective was Kathryn Calder. Her delicate duet with Carl Newman on "Adventures In Solitude" was lovely. When momentum occasionally flagged, as during "My Rights Versus Yours," the marvelous twin vocals of Calder and Case swiftly injected vitality into the proceedings.
John Collins' melodic bass propelled "Moves" and "Use It," songs that sounded as if they were ripped right out of McCartney's Wings-era catalog. Alternating between saxophone and cello, Ben Kalb added a Phil Spector-style wall-of-sound feel to the mix. Even so, the performance was anything but precise. When they weren't consuming bottles of beer, several members of the band couldn't stop smiling.
Like the majority of their audience, the New Pornographers endearingly project the sense that they're compulsive music geeks. "Myriad Harbour," "Sing Me Spanish Techno" and "Mass Romantic" were among the music-themed selections. The latter song, the title track of their 2000 debut album, was enthusiastically delivered as if it was brand new.
The "hey-la-hey-la" exit chorus of "The Bleeding Heart Show" will never achieve the universally beloved "na-na-na-na"s of "Hey Jude," but that didn't make it any less meaningful to Monday's inhibited but appreciative audience of about 900. If The New Pornographers are among McCartney's most gifted pupils, they earned a top grade at Liberty Hall.
OPENING ACTS: Two trios with vastly different approaches served as opening acts. Imaad Wasif led a band through a highly-enjoyable set of psychedelic blues and unbalanced folk-rock. While Wasif trafficked in well-worn sonic territory, The Dodos were intent on creating new sounds. Imaginative contributions from a vibraphonist added urgency to the Dodos' insistent pop.
NEW PORNOGRAPHER'S OFFICIAL SET LIST Sing Me Spanish Techno; Up In the Dark; Myriad Harbour; Crash Years; The Laws Have Changed; Jackie, Dressed In Cobras; Adventures In Solitude; Twin Cinema; Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk; Go Places; Jackie; My Rights Versus Yours; Moves; Your Hands (Together); Use It; Silver Jenny Dollar; Mass Romantic; Bleeding Heart Show; Challengers; Slow Descent Into Alcoholism; Testament To Youth In Verse.
| Bill Brownlee, Special to The Star