Live Review: The New Pornographers at North Park Theatre, October 18, 2014

The New Pornographers
Photo by Tim Fears

With each member an accomplished solo act in their own right, it’s an impressive feat that The New Pornographers come across as a legit band and not a supergroup. One of the main strengths that helps them overcome the supergroup moniker is a love and enthusiasm for the music they make together, and seeing them do it live at the North Park Theatre was a beautiful thing.

With a total of seven members on stage, the band opened with the title track from their fantastic new album Brill Bruisers. The song was a triumphant ode to the loud and powerful indie pop The New Pornographers have spent the last 14 years making — and a perfect way to start out the show.

For the second song, “Myriad Harbour,” founding member/sometimes songwriter Dan Bejar shuffled onstage like the group’s disheveled older brother. He exited as soon as the song was done, only to return later whenever his trademark lisping delivery was required. Bejar’s coming and going was par for the course for the shy musician, and his absence might have been felt much more if it weren’t for the number of extremely talented musicians that remained on stage.

Frontman Carl Newman presided over the show, handling the lion’s share of lead vocals and commenting on how much bigger the North Park Theatre crowd was than what he’s used to seeing at the Casbah. He was also adept at responding to the inevitable shouters in the crowd. After a barrage of unsolicited requests from the crowd, Newman replied, “Guys, we can’t play all the songs.”

Neko Case looked relieved to be spending some time as a supporting player, contributing her unmistakable backing harmonies to each song while beating the shit out of her hand with a tambourine. And keyboardist Kathryn Calder has evolved to an equally prominent member of the band, lending a few songs the distinctive Calder-esque vibe that marked her work in the unfortunately defunct Immaculate Machine.

As much as The New Pornographers are known and appreciated for making straightforward and catchy-as-hell rock music, they also have a more expansive side. They let that side out to play toward the middle of their set with one of their best songs, “Adventures in Solitude”. The song started with a sweet and subtle call and response between Neko Case and Carl Newman, then turned into a swaying power ballad. There were so many great things going on at once that the track almost collapsed under its own weight yet never did. Having all of these musicians on stage with so many of them singing different parts on each song could have been overwhelming, but Carl Newman’s tasteful compositions consistently brought out the best in each member.

After an exhilarating set that touched upon songs from each of The New Pornographers’ albums — including “Laws Have Changed” and “Testament to Youth in Verse” from Electric Version as well as the title track from Mass Romantic — it was time for an encore. “Bleeding Heart Show” is one of those songs that combines all of the elements you love about a band into one big beautiful cornucopia of sound and harmony. And when you’ve written a song like that, there’s really no other way to end a concert other than by playing the crap out of it. Suffice it to say that’s just what they did.

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