In 2000, my friend dragged me to see then-unknown band The New Pornographers in Winnipeg. I was captivated by Neko’s strident “Letter for an Occupant,” A.C. Newman’s catchy melodies, Dan Bejar’s edge, and the lovable gang vocals. I left with a copy of Mass Romantic.
Paired with locals COOL TV and Seattle’s Pickwick, Friday, October 3 at the Commodore Ballroom was undeniably the night of the year for charming group harmonies and catchy pop tunes.
COOL TV, the reincarnation of dearly departed Apollo Ghosts, welcomed showgoers to the venue with catchy and funky disco-inspired numbers. In sharp contrast to the bright Bill Bruisers album cover that plastered the back of the stage, five svelte backup singers swayed (almost) in unison as they added a thick layer of female voices behind Adrian Teacher’s narrative and playful lyrics. The “Coolettes,” a.k.a. leading ladies of Vancouver’s indie music scene, sang “Givin’ ‘em what they’ve always wanted” with detached sass as their harmonies were projected perfectly by the sound techs.
Uninhibited and guileless, Adrian Teacher strutted up and down the stage, fancy footworking his way into the crowd for a frenzied dance break. The shoe-tapping crowd mirrored the happy, sweaty crowd dancing at their Khatsalano Street Party set, where I espied Dan Bejar in the crowd. Coincidence? I think not.
Next up was Pickwick, a bluesy rock outfit that overwhelmed with wailing vocals and pop stylings. Way too loud for a pleasant side conversation, the band was reminiscent of a boring Black Keys with too much crooning. After unsticking my boots from the furthest end of the Commodore carpet, I headed to the front for the live performance of Bill Bruisers, the sixth album from Canada’s pop supergroup, The New Pornographers.
The biggest surprise of the night was seeing Amber Webber of Black Mountain to the left of Carl Newman, filling a hole the size of Neko Case, who was allegedly denied at the border. On the Brill Bruisers recordings, Amber sings a duet with Dan Bejar on “Born of a Sound” and filled in on harmonies for half the night’s performance. Also conspicuously absent was drummer Kurt Dahle, who played his last show with the New Pornographers at Rifflandia. The replacement drummer covered the parts with precision, but lacked the flair, backing harmonies, and saucy, interrupting tongue of Kurt.
The New Pornographers have always benefited from an excess of personality, which has contributed to their vibrant and dynamic sound, especially live. While it was a shame to miss the cheeky Dahle and belting voice of Neko, it was a treat to hear an array of Dan Bejar songs, with his edgy, rambling lyrics in “Jackie” and “Myriad Harbour.”
Against a backdrop of deadpan men and the chiseled intensity of A.C. Newman, Kathryn Calder carried the night’s performance with her animated voice and exuberance. The New Pornographers played songs from Bill Bruisers interspersed with tunes from their wide discography. “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism,” “Use It,” and “War on the East Coast” showed the consistent fusion of raw energy and melody in every song. After 15 years, The New Pornographers proved they’ve still got that magical formula to produce irresistible pop tunes.