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SLCR #294: The New Pornographers (October 6, 2017)

Hi! It’s the most concertingest time of the year, with five shows in 8 days, and I’m in Calgary. I mean, I won’t be by the time you read this. But right now I am. But I wasn’t there for this show.

I’m visiting my grandma again, and I scheduled the trip to coincide with some concerts again, so I have a lot of reviews to write again, and I’m doing them on the iPad again, and I don’t like finalizing them on the iPad again, so expect to get a bunch of these once I’m back. Or, as it will be called in the future, “this week.”

Hopefully if I say that now, I’ll push myself to actually finish them all up in reasonable time. The odds of this happening seem slim.

#1 pet peeve of writing these on the iPad is not, as you might expect, the autocorrect. No, it is that my handy iPad keyboard – which is actually pretty decent – has a lock button where the backspace key would be on a full-sized keyboard. So I shut this thing down a lot. And swear. I initially wrote “And sweat” which was a typo but was not incorrect. Also, I’ve been eating chips and it’s hard to use the fingerprint scanner when your hands are covered in shameful grease.

Another issue with the iPad is that my collection of old reviews is in a Word document on a thumb drive. Maybe while I’m here, I will get on grandma’s computer and see if I can email myself a copy that the iPad can open. Until then, I’m going off memory, or as I like to call it, “lying.” Time for this known fantasist to impart some unlikely tales!

I believe I have seen the New Pornographers twice before. This makes three, and I was surprised and delighted to find that Heather was going to be at the show with us, since I’ve never seen the New Pornographers without her. I didn’t know she was in town until that morning and I would have suggested that she come to this except it was sold out. Luckily she already had a ticket, or knew someone, or something, I don’t know. Is this really relevant to your life?

In another irrelevant story, the last time I saw them, The Mountain Goats were the opening act. I vaguely knew the name, didn’t know anything about them, enjoyed them well enough, and promptly forgot about it. And I literally mean I forgot about it – I appreciate them more now (writing an entire album about old-timey wrestling and actually making it really good helps) and was shocked to re-read an old review and discover I’d seen them. Ask Mika and she will confirm that I full-on yelled “what the fuck, we saw The Mountain Goats?!”

Anyway. Mika and I got to the Exchange around 7:45 and wandered inside – before most people got there but too late to have to wait in line outside. In short, we won.

They gave us wristbands so we could buy alcohol like adults and I promptly got Mika an iced tea and myself a Wild Cherry Pepsi. I then spent about 15 minutes fighting with the stupid wristband because it was on tight and I decided I’d rather have wrist freedom than booze freedom.

Getting drinks was fun. First, the bartender’s vodka bottle slipped, and in grabbing for it, he pulled the nozzle off and sent the bottle to the floor. Then someone ordered a Caesar and he added all of the component parts before realizing they were out of Clamato. He offered the customer the glass of vodka, ice, and Tabasco – I think free! – but no takers.

Mark and Arlette showed up shortly before the openers started and staked out a nice leanin’ spot along the wall by the front of the stage. Mika and I, and eventually Heather, stayed back, centre stage, behind the people who were willing to shove their way to the front.

The openers were Born Ruffians. Before we went, Mika played me a few of their songs. I’m not certain, but I think they were called “You Probably Know This One. No?” and “I Think This One Was in a Car Commercial. Still No?”

Okay, so I am not exactly “informed.” But I know a few things – there were three of them and they play the kind of fun, slightly poppy rock that is right in my wheelhouse. I really liked them and made a vow to listen to more of them. And I’m pretty sure they played the song that may or may not have ever been in a car commercial, or maybe it was the other one, or probably both.

Between sets, Mika and Heather took off outside which was very sensible because everyone in the building was roasting. I went to chat with Mark and Arlette, who were visiting with Mark’s daughter Hayley. I mention her by name because Mark said I should. He’s been taking on more of a contributing editor role to these things of late. Too bad he won’t see this for a while – I’ve got four more reviews to write in about a week and I could use the guidance.

Anyway we had a nice chat – it’s nice when Mark can fit both concerts AND cutting up animals into his schedule. He seemed real interested in talking me into going to an upcoming psychobilly concert; I don’t know if this is because he wants to go or he just wants to see if he can talk me into doing so.

Historically, here’s how New Pornographers albums go for me:

  1. I listen to it
  2. I am nonplussed
  3. I listen to it some more
  4. Still nothing
  5. One song becomes a hit, or Mika plays it a bunch, or whatever – I hear it lots is the point
  6. It turns out that song is great
  7. It turns out all their songs are great

So I was surprised when I listened to the new record, Whiteout Conditions, and liked it from the get-go. That’s not supposed to happen!

I mention the album title because I need to fix my brain. Their last album was Brill Bruisers. It came out in 2014 if Apple Music is telling me the truth. Up until days before the show, I was convinced that Brill Bruisers had just come out and that the new songs I’d heard were just more singles from that album. It’s as if several years went by and I completely missed it. I’m hoping that by repeating the actual timeline I can sort myself out.

I can’t keep track of everyone in (and/or touring with) New Pornographers, but I don’t think that’s age-related feeblemindedness, they’ve just got a complicated family tree. AC Newman was there. And Kathryn Calder. Beyond that, I need to Google and I’m not about to do that.

Anyway, this was great. A nice mix of new stuff and old classics, good sound, crowd was into it despite collectively succumbing to heatstroke. The older stuff got the best reactions, as it will – Use It and Sing Me Spanish Techno were particularly crowd-pleasing, though The Jessica Numbers was the one that stuck in my head for a good long time afterwards. High Ticket Attractions, off the new record, seems like it might be one that becomes a quick favourite too. Mass Romantic, Brill Bruisers, The Laws Have Changed, The Bleeding Heart Show – I guess this means nothing to you if you don’t know the songs, but I do, and when I write them all out one after the other, I think “these guys have just a ton of great songs.”

Because writing out a list of songs and silently admiring them in awe is totally something I do all the time. That paragraph was just the worst.

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SLCR #150 – The New Pornographers – June 9, 2010

As we reach yet another SLCR milestone, I want to make sure that we all take this time to remember one very important thing – two months away from turning 34, I still got carded. Moreover, another member of our party who is younger than I am did not.

Shameful secret time – I rarely drink anymore because I can’t hold my liquor; the only reason I get the you’re-old-enough-to-drink wristband is because sometimes they want to check my ID and that makes me feel slightly less geriatric.

(Not, as I initially wrote, "less generic.")

I did, of course, take every opportunity to gloat over the fact that I got ID’d and someone else did not, but I also said "I’m sure he’s thinking ‘Don’t take it as a compliment, old man, I have to check everyone.’"

"Pretty much," confirmed the security guard.

I did actually have a beer at this show. That might be my first since a very unfortunate (if also very amusing) evening last fall where I killed a lot of flies, temporarily lost my watch, stole someone else’s sweet potato fries, and woke up on the floor of my own bathroom. I’ve heard "at least you made it home" on multiple occasions when telling this story, and yes, I’ll take whatever accomplishments I can, thanks.

I made the call to attend this show at the last minute, so I only picked up a ticket two days before. Mika and Heather, responsible planners, had bought their tickets well in advance. Unfortunately, as my ticket was being bought, theirs were going missing. Mika and I had plans to meet Heather for sushi, but she was delayed by a futile search for the missing tickets. I don’t know if the mystery was ever resolved, but I’m thinking they got stolen. Which sucks. I tried placing a last-minute, last-ditch request to a friend who sometimes has access to freebies, but they had all been spoken for. Luckily, there were about 40 tickets left at the venue by the time we got there. "Luckily" in the sense that we all got in; the "paying twice" part wasn’t so grand, though as Heather put it, "it’s only money – I can make more." Which is a pretty good attitude to have, all things considered.

Anyway, after all that nonsense, I figured everyone needed a beer.

I also needed a CD copy of Mass Romantic, which had been on my to-get list forever. The prices were reasonable!

Now, let’s get this out of the way – I hate the Odeon. I haven’t been to Amigo’s in forever, so I guess the Odeon has taken over as my edifice nemesis. The show sold out not long after we got there, so it was packed and hot. It’s always packed and hot, but this seemed extra packed and hot. The beer did help, but I only had the one. The bar was too far away and I didn’t feel like wading through the masses to get another. It was too packed for me to get anything that would help with the hot. Plus, beers were $6 each, and c’mon. Those prices were not so reasonable.

The opening act was the Mountain Goats. I knew nothing about them. They were good! They wore suits. I remember thinking that they reminded me of a cross between some band and some other band, but I guess that particular bit of wit and insight sweated right out of me. It was really clever, I’m sure.

Between sets, I ran into my neighbour from down the hall, who, like me, was also two-and-a-half hours from home. I seem to run into him in two places – the hallway and the Odeon. He also enjoyed the Mountain Goats, citing their great lyrics. This gives me a wonderful opportunity to segue into the other thing I hate about the Odeon – the sound. I don’t know if they’ve got people who can’t run the sound, or if it’s just that the room is that acoustically poor, or what, but if The Mountain Goats had great lyrics, I missed most of them.

I almost skipped out on this show because I had seen the New Pornographers twice before, and I’d seen Neko Case once before as well. But I’d never seen the New Pornographers actually perform with Neko Case – she’s usually off doing her own thing – so at the last minute, I made myself available. I figured this wasn’t a show I’m going to get to see again anytime soon. Dan Bejar was there too, though he seemed to wander on stage, do his thing, and bugger off again until the next time he was needed.

As they were touring in support of Together, their new album, you could expect to hear a lot of it. Which we did, and that was fine, though I have to admit it hasn’t really grabbed me. I usually listen to a band’s music while I’m writing up the review, and right now, I’m enjoying me some Electric Version, having just finished off Twin Cinema. The new stuff is patiently waiting for a turn that won’t come tonight.

To be fair, The New Pornographers’ albums generally make me go "meh" for a long time, until I’ve heard the songs separately or in small bunches and I eventually decide that they’re all great. I’m still kind of working on their last album, so I think I’m good for a while.

The live show, though, was pretty entertaining. We did get lots of songs from the older albums, and the newer stuff was a lot more fun live. There will always be songs you hope for but don’t get, but overall, I had no complaints with the setlist. I understand that Bones of an Idol is not a fun-time party anthem.

The sold-out crowd created an atmosphere that enhanced the show, and I don’t just mean temperature-wise. Younger, more heat-resistant people spent the whole set jumping around, and the atmosphere always helps a show. One dude even crowd surfed until he got sternly glared at. But not everyone there made the world a better place. A few songs in, some dickbag hipster in a stupid hat decided he was going to shove in front of me and completely block my view of the stage. I glared a hole through the back of his head, and though he looked to his left and to his right, he sure avoided looking at me. Then he started a conversation with people who were standing behind me, so I elbowed past him and reclaimed my spot. VICTORY. I would have preferred to put a couple of 12-to-6 elbows right through his head – since the glaring did nothing – but this was good enough for me.

Having Neko Case there was a treat, though I didn’t think that this set was that much better than the other times I’ve seen them. Kathryn Calder does a fine job singing Neko’s part when Neko’s not around. One member of our party who shall remain nameless – I’m the only one who gets to get in trouble for saying mean things about celebrities around here – said that Neko’s voice was flat and they should have turned Calder’s mic up higher. I didn’t notice this, but then, I wouldn’t. I still haven’t figured out what an octave is.

UPCOMING SHOWS THAT MAKE ME FEEL OLD (BUT AT LEAST ARE NOT AT THE ODEON)
 – June 18: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
 – June 26: Odds
 – July 9: Simon & Garfunkel
 – October 8/9: Crash Test Dummies

New Pornographers – Twin Cinema

Is it just me, or does every New Pornographers album sound like a Greatest Hits disc to you, too? ‘Cos man, it sure seems that way to me.

Twin Cinema is another pop gem from this collection of brilliant musicians. I love everything about it. You knew I was gonna say that, didn’t you? Of course you did.

Check out the way the title track, a typically great pop rocker, crashes into the piano driven, Neko-voiced The Bones Of An Idol, making the best one-two album-opener punch I’ve heard in ages. Many bands could not pull this off at all without it sounding like a train-wreck mess, but here it is a simple fact and it works with aplomb.

Every song after that just gets better and better, too. Here we have some slower, more introspective moments, tons more genuinely beautiful pop rockers, and the band’s (by now) trademark complex instrumentation, all bubbling happily along underneath thoughtful, engaging lyrics. Heck, even their sound has a life of its own by now so that, if you hear a track, you know instantly that it’s them. Classic, from Day One. In other words, it’s another New Pornographers record.

On another note, I also welcome the addition of the lovely and talented Kathyrn Calder (she of the completely brilliant Immaculate Machine) to the party here. It fills me with giddy glee when people from my favourite bands get together and collaborate. Wahoo!

Look, I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know by now. If you’ve taken the time to read this meager offering of impressions (none of these are even close to being professional reviews, after all), you’ll already understand the visceral connection that the listener has to this record, you’ll nod your head and smile and crank the volume on your stereo, letting Twin Cinema take you away in its swirl of bliss for the umpteenth time in your lucky life.
 

Track Listing:
01 Twin Cinema
02 The Bones Of An Idol
03 Use It
04 The Bleeding Heart Show
05 Jackie, Dressed In Cobras
06 The Jessica Numbers
07 These Are The Fables
08 Sing Me Spanish Techno
09 Falling Through Your Clothes
10 Broken Breads
11 Three Or Four
12 Star Bodies
13 Streets Of Fire
14 Stacked Crooked

New Pornographers – Electric Version

Another brilliant record, their second, from the New Pornographers! Hello, cause for celebration!

The songs here are a little heavier somehow, in comparison to Mass Romantic, but it’s all to the good. The lyrics are once again brilliant, the combination of voices and instruments simply works, and one wonders how one band can put together so many untouchable songs and make it all sound so effortless. Show offs!

There’s so much to love about this record, and each reason is plainly obvious every time I play it. The harmonies. The playful addition of quirky instruments in seemingly inappropriate (but always, ultimately, appropriate) places. The complex arrangements. The apparent joy in everything they do. By now we know that the New Pornographers operate on a whole other level than mere mortals, so we should just gratefully accept each offering the band throws our way.

Each song is insanely catchy on its own but, taken as a cohesive whole, this album works on every level it needs to – and then some. Let it grow on you, play it over and over, and these songs will seep into your blood stream, become a part of your consciousness, put a big grin on your face…

You’ll catch yourself humming them on the subway, at your desk, wherever you happen to be. And you’ll be entirely happy about it, too.

Right freakin’ on.
 

Track Listing:
01 The Electric Version
02 From Blown Speakers
03 The Laws Have Changed
04 The End Of Medicine
05 Loose Translation
06 Chump Change
07 All For Swinging You Around
08 The New Face Of Zero And One
09 Testament To Youth In Verse
10 It’s Only Divine Right
11 Ballad Of A Comeback Kid
12 July Jones
13 Miss Teen Wordpower
 

PS: For you fellow GBV geeks out there, the Thanks section of this album’s liner notes includes a shout-out to our boys, Guided By Voices. I don’t know why, exactly, or in what capacity Mr. Pollard and the boys had any part of this project (I don’t see anything listed), but there you go.

New Pornographers – Mass Romantic

I love the New Pornographers. Just thought I’d put that out there.

Whilst recently in Toronto, that big playground of concrete (and a couple of cool record shops), I filled in the gaps in my collection left by moves across the country and such things, so now I have actual CDs of the band’s stuff again. Hooray!

So anyway, Mass Romantic. Simply great. Kudos to Mint Records for having the great sense to put these people’s work out there! But man, I can’t believe this album came out seven years ago, now. I’d feel like I was getting old if this band’s albums didn’t lift me up like they do!

I think I’ve commented in these pages before about how Neko Case’s voice makes all the little hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Damn, that girl can SING! Of course, just about everybody in the band sings here too, in varying capacities, and it’s all awesome. Sailing over the top of these jangly and really energetic pop rock songs, the whole just sounds so fantastic. What else can a guy say after a description like ‘perfect?’ Exactly.

I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favourite song on this album, since I’ve heard it so many times and I love each song like dear, dear friends. So I pick ‘em all. ‘Cos I can.

This is ultimate road-trip music. Imagine endless prairie sailing past your car windows as this plays in your deck, and you’ll see how the music offered to us by these beautiful people could make even the longest stretch of forsaken highway seem to take very little time at all.

I love this record.

 

Track Listing:
01 Mass Romantic
02 The Fake Headlines
03 The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism
04 Mystery Hours
05 Jackie
06 Letter From An Occupant
07 To Wild Homes
08 The Body Says No
09 Execution Day
10 Centre For Holy Wars
11 The Mary Martin Show
12 Breakin’ The Law

The New Pornographers (October 16, 2006)

I have a small mountain of (three) ticket stubs sitting next to my keyboard, and I might be going to another show this Friday, so I had better get to writing.
Going into this show, I figured it might he hard to determine which of three piles of awesome was the MOST awesome. This, if you’ve never experienced it, is a pretty great problem to have. I’d seen the New Pornographers earlier in the year and they were great. Novillero, I’ve been championing these guys ever since the first time I saw them, when they stole the show from the Sadies. Immaculate Machine looked to be the wildcard, but I bought their most recent CD on a whim and it turned out to be excellent.
Upon arriving at the show, I checked the stuff table for a CD I’d read about on the internet. In conjunction with this tour, Mint Records had released a CD of live performances of Mint artists (including the three we were seeing) recorded for CBC Radio 3. This sounded like a pretty great idea. That it turned out to be free, well, that just made my day. The concert tour was put on by Exclaim!, who usually gives out free CD samplers at their shows, so I shouldn’t have been quite so surprised. I think it’s still cool that I was quite so delighted, though. Mika managed to swipe an extra copy for Aaron, who responded in all caps and with exclamation points.
Because I saved so much money buy not having to buy that CD, I bought a Novillero t-shirt. And a New Pornographers t-shirt (perfect for work!). And another Immaculate Machine CD. I have good ideas sometimes.
The host for the evening’s festivities… okay, this is a funny one. He said he was from CBC Radio 3, and I thought he said his name was Tariq. So I told Mika, “hey, if this guy is who I think he is, I saw him open for Great Big Sea once.” Then I thought about it for a second, and I realized, that if this guy was who I thought he was, I saw his dink once, as he went streaking across the stage during Great Big Sea’s set, as it was the final night of the tour. Before putting this accusation on the internet, I searched radio3.cbc.ca, found the Tariq in question, read his bio, and unearthed this little gem:
Q: What is your most shameful/glorious musical moment?
A: I was on tour with my band opening up for Great Big Sea and it was the last night of the tour. We had this crazy idea to walk out on stage during their set…naked. There we stood like a broken piano: ebony and three ivories in front of two-thousand GBS fans. It was both glorious and shameful all at once, but very multicultural.
Novillero opened the show. They were missing one band member, and either four or five suits, depending on whether we have to count the suit belonging to the guy who wasn’t there. I don’t know that I really have much to say about Novillero anymore. They’re great, and I’ve now written about eight thousand reviews touting how great Novillero are. I don’t know that this was my favourite of their performances. Possibly it was the larger venue, or possibly the suits have magical powers. Who knows. But a lesser form of greatness is still great, and I liked their new songs, which made me hopeful that there would be a new album one of these years.
We had gathered off to one side of the room, in a great spot to watch members of all three bands wander past us. I spent a lot of time saying “hey, there’s that guy over there.” Then Mika would agree that it was, in fact, that guy over there. John was also a guy over there (we saw his beard bobbing up and down in time to the music), and then he wandered past us so we chatted with him for a bit. In the span of about two minutes, we learned all about his beard, he assured his that there were “no phalluses here,” and he correctly guessed my name, which is impressive; last time he thought I was “B.” Or maybe “Bea.”
I think buying the Immaculate Machine CD was a good idea. Not only is it excellent, but it meant I knew a bunch of the songs, which was probably why I liked these guys more than my compatriots did. This was light, fun pop which fit in well with Novillero and the New Pornographers. I claimed at the time that I enjoyed this more than the Novillero set, but in hindsight, it might just be that I’ve seen Novillero a million times and knew what I would be getting, while I was most excited to see Immaculate Machine for the first time.
At any rate, the New Pornographers put on a better set than either of the two openers, so it’s a moot point. The set list was similar to the Regina show, but the band’s energy level was up, as was the crowd’s. They fed off each other and it made the show that much better. I also enjoyed the gratuitous Regina-bashing, but as AC Newman explained, it was all part of the show. “When you’re in Edmonton, you say you hate Calgary. When you’re in Montreal, you say you hate the rest of Canada,” he explained. This got laughs. “FUCK YORKTON!” yelled Kurt Dahle; this got MORE laughs.
So New Pornographers win the coveted title of Best Band of the Evening, but all three split I’d-Go-See-Them-Again honours. Nothing to complain about there.
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