Surely, this sighting deserves at least a mention in the annals of the continued mainstreaming of "indie" rock: Next door to the Warfield, where the New Pornographers played an enthusiastically attended show tonight, the Crazy Horse Gentleman's Club advertised a girl-girl pair named "Sara" and "Teagan." Coincidence? Their salute to Canadian indie rockers? Just plain good marketing? You decide.
New Pornographers, the Warfield, September 17, 2007: Let me state the obvious: Indie music and commercial success are uncomfortable bedfellows. I know that I couch my wavering ardor for bands in terms of venue snobbery, but let's be honest--I often have problems sharing "my" bands with a growing fanbase. With the New Pornographers, however, that's the last thought that comes to mind; their sustained ascendancy, along with Carl Newman's emergence as a top-notch songwriter, is one of my favorite feel-good stories of recent times, and I loved seeing the Warfield fill up with their wide range of fans.
Not that it was always this way. During the show, Carl referred to an earlier gig, and I recalled the same date when Julie first picked up tix for us to this outing. Back in 2002, the New Pornographers, along with My Morning Jacket, filled out an incredible triple bill with Guided by Voices at the Warfield. The show was a little sad because the place wasn't even half full, even by the time Guided by Voices hit the stage; I vividly recall sitting up in the balcony with, at most, a dozen other people and looking down upon the sparsely populated main floor. Even worse, the New Pornographers' sound fell flat in the cavernous room. It's also the show where I had to leave around 12:30 or so because I was so exhausted, though GBV were still slogging on at that point. Sometimes you just have to call it a night.
No such endurance test this time out, however. Even after two openers, the crowd bopped along boisterously to the New Pornographers' mix of peppy, catchy, and at times anthemic songs from the band's three albums. The new one, Challengers, is a hair mellower than their earlier works, and the band jokingly acknowledged it at one point when they tried to prep us for the self-proclaimed power ballad. Ever tongue in cheek, though, their warning quickly degenerated into a semi-paean to--could there any other Bay Area icon?--Journey. I seem to recall the New Pornographers have gone down this road before, but Carl cut them off this time. Still, extra points go to Neko for referencing the Journey scarab and Dr. Pepper lipgloss during this interlude.
My favorite songs on Challenger have surprisingly turned out to be Dan Bejar's tunes, so it was great to see him intermittently drop in to perform his tracks. He was nowhere as drunk as he was at the Bimbo's shows, but it didn't take long for the beer bottles to accompany him to the stage. In other lineup news, it looks like Kathryn Calder is now a permanent addition, but I had no idea that Jon Wurster was occupying the drummer's seat.
If I have any complaint about the show is that the New Pornographers' sound tends to favor treble, so some of the vocals fell on the shrill side at the Warfield. It was especially noticeable whenever Neko took the lead, as her warm, rich tones contrasted sharply with the angular assault on other songs. I wonder if, say, the Fillmore would've treated them better in this regard.
Overall, though, it was great to see San Francisco lap up this great show and to receive some love from the musicians themselves, who acknowledged that we were some of their earliest supporters, especially compared to "bullshit cities" such as Louisville and Cleveland (Carl's characterizations, not mine). If I ruled the world, the New Pornographers would be the No. 1 pop band in the land, but since I don't, it's not bad knowing that they command at least a small fiefdom out here.
Fancey, fronted by the New Pornographers' own Todd Fancey, was the first opener. He took lead vocals and guitars, while three other people (two girls and guy) rounded out the group. They bear all the signs you'd expect from a New Pornographers-affiliated band (pop hooks, harmonies), but I can't say they were particularly memorable.
The second opener was Lavender Diamond from Los Angeles. If you go by appearances, they're one of the more incongruous mix of individuals you might expect (the indie rocker, the older guy, the hippie, the one from the drum circle), but somehow, their sound worked--for the most part. It probably helped that the singer's voice was so pretty. The lyrics are not groundbreaking, and they lost me at times with their talk of sunny days and flowers, but by the end, I was squarely on their side.
Oh, and to conclude this report, I need to mention that we saw Jim Eno of Spoon watching from the side of the stage; I think he even brought out some beers to the group toward the end of the show. And before the gig, we spotted in the crowd Carl Newman with his new bride taking in Fancey's set.
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