The blog lives! This summer has turned out to be one of semi-austerity; coupled with my low concert drive these days--well, let's say I don't get out much. Of course, there's always an exception, and the New Pornographers' first show in Oakland--at the Fox Theater, no less--does that to me.
The New Pornographers, Fox Theater, July 18, 2010: You have to admit that when the New Pornographers entered the scene, their "supergroup" label was a bit of a misnomer. Honestly, aside from a handful of zine-reading acolytes, how many people could even name the parent bands from which they derived?
These days, they more than live up to that title, with their own groups and thriving careers, most notably Carl Newman, Dan Bejar, and Neko Case. As rock 'n' roll cliches go, this outside success is supposed to breed jealousy and rivalry, but for whatever reason, the New Pornographers have seemed to thrive with these extra commitments. I suppose the band's commercial viability doesn't hurt either, but I take Dan, Neko, and Carl's continued presence to be a good omen of the New Pornographers' future.
Another good sign (literally): the eponymous bulb-encrusted notice at the back of the stage. I'm pretty sure it wasn't the same one we saw three years ago, but I hope they keep it or a reasonable facsimile around--for the glamor factor, if nothing else.
I see certain musicians--sometimes again and again--simply because I like them, but for the purposes of this blog, I try to take a more scholarly (boring) approach, pointing out changes and developments since the last concert. Of course, there's the new album Together to promote, and based on cursory listens, I notice a more aggressive sound ("Your Hands Together") on this record than on its predecessor. That's as deep as I get, though; the New Pornographers (Carl, particularly) throw out so many words and in such labyrinthine patterns that I tend to gloss over the lyrics until the chorus bores its way into my brain. That pattern holds with early singles such as "Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk" and "Crash Years," which can easily join the New Pornographers' roster of greatest hits--or whatever constitutes such a collection in indie rock circles.
Speaking of lyrics, we got a telling confession from the band when Carl, Neko, and Kathryn all admitted they never get the words to "Twin Cinema" right. The song is rife with references to San Francisco, and it led to a segment when the band pandered to local interests. Carl and Kathryn unconvincingly worked in references to the A's and Jose Canseco, respectively, but I still give them an A for effort.
Carl and Neko are, of course, indispensable to the show, and Neko, as always, garnered the majority of squeals and confessions of love. As for Carl, if you're at a New Pornographers show and don't realize that he's written most of the words and notes, then I don't know why you even bothered showing up. However, Dan Bejar's increased role constituted the biggest difference between this gig and previous New Pornographers concerts.
It wasn't the first time I've seen Dan with the band, but on this occasion, he appeared more at ease with his responsibilities to the group. Dan still spent much of the show off-stage, but he took his place in the spotlight for a good third of the gig, even when he wasn't required to sing. Though he always had a drink in hand, he didn't look anywhere near as drunk as before; still, it was enough to inspire one of the guys behind me to remark that Dan had the best job in the world (my thoughts exactly).
Dan didn't grant drummer Kurt Dahle's request to pop and lock for the audience, but he more than delivered everything else we wanted, including carrying off many of the tunes New Pornographers fans have come to know and love, such as "Myriad Harbour" and "Execution Day." The segments with Dan were truly my favorite portions of the show, if only for the visual of a five-musician lineup at the edge of the stage singing harmonies and playing their instruments. Of course, there was more to it, but it wasn't a bad start, nor did it make for a bad conclusion when they closed the show with "Testament to Youth in Verse."
Two bands opened for the New Pornographers. First was Imaad Wasif, whom I last saw opening for Neko last year. I hear Imaad's former bassist has moved onto a new gig, but the band had changed in other ways too, with the addition of a violinist for a fuller sound.
The second bad was the Dodos, hailing from San Francisco. They sounded fantastic, mixing folksy acoustic guitar and charming melodies with Burundi-worthy percussion (actually, a set of drums and a separate rack of vibes). Neko joined them for one song, further cementing the headliner's approval.
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