Not that long ago, it wasn't unusual for my annual concert calendar to lay dormant until February or even March, depending on when Noise Pop rolled out the red carpet. I've obviously strayed from that laissez-faire model, but I'm still a little chagrined that the A.C. Newman gig marks not only the first show I've seen in San Francisco this year, but the only Noise Pop live musical performance I'd catch at all.
A.C. Newman, the Independent, February 28, 2009: Noise Pop has been particularly cruel this year. The first pass at the roster yielded two glaring scheduling conflicts, among several other timing troubles: Stephen Malkmus and the Broken West on the same night--both eventually supplanted by a screening of the new Wilco movie, which included scenes from the shows I saw at Tipitina's last year--as well as a tough call between Bob Mould and A.C. Newman. I blame NAFTA.
I couldn't tell you how a musician decides what songs to record with the band, for the splinter project, or as a solo performer, but sometimes, you can see the connections. Carl's debut five years ago wasn't far removed from the New Pornographers' material at the time: simultaneously breezy, poppy, and caustic, that last point further punctuated by Carl's gripes during the solo tour about Matador's publicity department. In other words, it was great.
In those intervening years, the New Pornographers have enjoyed a nice ascent, and you could argue that their music has shed some--though not all--of that earlier frivolity. Carl's second solo album seems to have undergone a similar transformation, and onstage, he took fewer potshots as well. More worryingly, the effortless wordiness of the New Pornographers' works tripped me up a few times on this album, and trust me, I want to sing along.
Otherwise, I don't consider maturity a liability, and Carl still knows how to write songs that make you wonder if Lesley Gore or Ronnie Spector are available to book some studio time with him. What those voices could do with those high notes...
Carl and his band delivered a well-balanced set mixing songs from both solo albums but (no surprise) not a single New Pornographers track. I'm predisposed to loving the power-pop tunes, as well as anything with harmonies, so of course the likes of "The Heartbreak Rides" and "All of My Days and All of My Days Off" got my attention. He pretty much hit everything I wanted to hear off "The Slow Wonder" as well, closing out the set with "On the Table" and "The Town Halo."
I have no idea how egalitarian the New Pornographers are as a band, but onstage at least, they revel in the give and take between certain personnel. Carl's crew tonight, though hardly mute, seemed more like supporting players--fair enough. Still, they managed to help their bandmate as he willingly fell off the wagon at the stroke of midnight, and they joined Carl for the final bow of the evening.
Dent May and his Magnificent Ukulele opened the show, and one word stuck in my head for the entire performance: precious--and that shouldn't be a shock. He and his band were incredibly likable, and I had no idea uke-led tunes could sway and rock to the extent they pulled off. The cover of Prince's "When U Were Mine" didn't hurt either (and I remember all the words).
» use it tonight