My first New Pornographers concert was quite a treat, as the all-star band played an impressive greatest-hits set list from across their five-album, 11-year career.
Performing for a packed house at DC's 9:30 Club last night (the first of a two-night stand in leader Carl Newman's "favorite city to perform in"), the show suffered early from the band's strong but sometimes-samey-sounding catalog. There was little emotion in the first hour and the songs meandered along at med-tempo, almost no tempo. Still, there was the carnivalesque keyboards humming underneath the songs that kept promise alive.
This pacing actually made the early-evening slow ballads like the acoustic-Western stylings of "Adventures in Solitude" and "Challengers," with its almost tribal harmonies, really stand out.
But as the airplane roar increased and the emotional heat began to build, the second 60 minutes of the show found a band in its prime. Even the super-serious Neko Case (one of three, or four, lead singers) loosened up and clearly began to have fun, cracking up the whole way through a song in which she couldn't get the image of "Canada's population of five hermaphrodites," discussed during previous between-song banter, out of her head.
Newman showed off his light-hearted everyman sense of humor by introducing the keyboardist and saxophonist as former members of Huey Lewis and the News. The band also played an Eagles riff as spaceman sideman Dan Bejar (a mix of Sideshow Bob and the fourth Bee Gee) entered the stage at one point (he only appeared on a half-dozen songs or so, leaving the audience to wonder what he could have possibly been doing backstage all that time).
The New Pornographers saved their best songs, which are almost entirely uptempo compared to the bulk of their catalog, for the end. Bejar's new "Silver Jenny Dollar," the punk-rock Sesame Street of "Mass Romantic," a brief Ben's Chili Bowl (legendary DC restaurant) theme song, "Slow Descent Into Alcoholism," "The Laws Have Changed," and "A Letter From and Occupant" sent the crowd home ecstatically happy.
Listen to the concert at NPR.
****1/2 out of ***** stars