Most reviews of the New Pornographers’ new CD Challengers have been lukewarm. I personally don’t agree with those reviews – I think it’s a wonderfully understated album, beautiful in the simplicity of its songs, but moving due to the sheer talent involved in recording those songs. And I dare anyone who thinks differently to still hold that opinion after seeing those songs performed live, like I did last Tuesday night.
I don’t have any photos, because I was unable to secure a photo pass through any of the three bands playing that night. Fancey (a band including the guitarist from New Pornographers) opened, but we missed their set due to an early start on the part of House of Blues (again) and a late dinner at Fred’s on our part. Lavender Diamond was the second band to perform, but I really can’t say much about them either, as us of-agers were relegated to getting our drinks in the crowded (and loud) balcony bar. Again, I ask, WHAT THE FUCK HOUSE OF BLUES? Anyway.
During the set change, we made our way down to the relatively uncrowded lower floor – I guess that’s the one benefit of sequestering most of the show goers to a small space away from the stage. The band came out, and I was immediately blown away by all of the members, but most of all by Neko Case. I can’t stress enough (and it’s been stated by plenty of other people) how beautiful her voice is. Their set list was composed mostly of songs off of their new album, including “All the Old Showstoppers,” “Myriad Harbor,” “Mutiny, I Promise You,” and “The Spirit of Giving.”
But they didn’t fail to reach into their back catalog as well, playing “Mass Romantic” off their first album of the same name, and several off of Twin Cinema (“Twin Cinema,” “Jackie, Dressed in Cobras,” and “Sing Me Spanish Techno”). They ended their regular set with “The Bleeding Heart Show,” which I sort of expected. But, it being my favorite NP song, I was pretty happy with it. That song, along with Neko Case’s “power waltz” of “Go Places,” were probably the highlights of the night for me.
It was quite touching to see the audience break into “Happy Birthday” for AC Newman, when he started to say something about “it being a special day” for him. Also, twice during breaks between songs, the soundman played clips from the Beatles’ “Birthday.” Dan Bejar was quite entertaining to watch during the entire set. He wandered on and off stage as needed, always with a beer in one hand and his eyes mostly closed. Somehow, it didn’t manage to affect his performance at all.
The encore consisted of all older songs, to the pleasure of the fans in the audience. “A Testament to Youth and Verse” was followed by “Slow Descent Into Alcoholism,” and the trifecta was nicely rounded out by the final song, “Letter from an Occupant.” Neko and the rest of the band didn’t hold back on any of the songs, and even though I already liked the new album, I know I’ll enjoy listening to it more now after having had the benefit of seeing the songs live.