The New Pornographers at Pabst Theater
- MONDO LUCHA! celebrates fifth anniversary in high-flying style at Turner Hall
- David Sedaris goes off book, shines at Pabst Theater
- Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck offer glimpses of greatness at Riverside Theater
- John Hodgman, Kristen Schaal, Eugene Mirman give Pabst Theater three shows for price of one
- Top 5 musical moments from Kenosha’s 2013 Ride of the Living Dead
Over the course of 10 years and five albums, Canadian indie-pop super-group The New Pornographers has developed a formula that’s proved surprisingly sturdy. Mixing Dan Bejar’s heady, abstract wordplay with Neko Case’s incredible voice and penchant for macabre storytelling, and wrapping it all up in A.C. Newman’s swirling vision of straightforward, subtly complex pop music didn’t necessarily seem like a recipe for a long-lasting group when the landmark Mass Romantic was released in 2000. It’s sort of incredible that the weight of the whole thing hasn’t already collapsed in on itself. But as Saturday’s concert at Pabst Theater attested, The New Pornographers still have that laughably loose-limbed, this-is-all-a-lark quality they’ve always had.
Opening with three standout songs from their last three albums—Twin Cinema’s “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” “Up In The Dark” from this year’s Together, and “Myriad Harbor” from 2007’s Challengers—The New Pornographers showed an impressive ability to pull freely from their increasingly expansive back catalog. Newman even invited the audience to offer suggestions for something the band “wouldn’t normally play,” though this ended up being more of a gesture than a serious offer. (After taking a couple of suggestions, he joked, “I don’t approve of any of your requests.”)
Newman’s playful banter helped to maintain a light-hearted and conversational tone that pervaded the band’s set. This was particularly true of the interaction between Newman and wildcard Bejar, who was offstage for most of the evening, only appearing long enough to play the occasional song before once again disappearing. During his first absence Newman commented, “I’ll bet you a million dollars Dan is chugging a beer right now.” Sure enough, when Bejar returned, he had a beer in hand. After Bejar whispered something in his ear, Newman said to the crowd, “He’s always talking in riddles. He said something about an apothecary.” Somebody book these guys at Atlantic City!
Between The Dutchess And The Duke’s endearingly lackadaisical opening set, The Dodos’ emotionally captivating sincerity, and the Pornographers’ run-through of a decade’s worth of outstanding pop output, the night turned out to be something like a modern variety show. All jokiness aside, The New Pornographers are among the best and more reliable acts in indie-pop, and now they have enough memorable songs to pad out a hits-laden concert. It’s a neat trick few bands can manage: being a crowd-pleaser without taking yourself too seriously.