The last time I saw the New Pornographers live was in 2007 at Chicago’s Metro. Lead singer Carl Newman commented during the show about a strong thunderstorm happening outside during the gig, and you could hear thunder between songs now and then. It was a great show, and my wife and got back to our hotel room still buzzing from it. I noticed I had a voicemail from work, so I listened. The storm that had rolled through Chicago during the show had become a tornado by the time it reached our hometown. Nearly every home on the southeast side of town had either been destroyed or damaged. A factory and a convenience store were wiped off the face of the Earth. Amazingly, no one was injured. Our house was fine, but we returned home early the next day to help with the rebuilding and cleaning efforts.
Thankfully, the only thing dire that happened during my second time seeing the New Pornographers was that the brewery in which they played, Bell’s in Kalamazoo, didn’t serve cider, radlers, or even their own root beer.
Unfortunately, I missed nearly all of opening band Ought‘s set. I walked in during their last song (Thanks, Google Maps, for directions that were fine until the last two steps of the journey.), which sounded like some good shoegaze. I need to check out their material.
The New Pornographers came out sharp and quick with crowd favorites like “High Ticket Attractions,” “The Laws Have Changed,” and “Sing Me Spanish Techno.” They sounded great. They haven’t lost anything in ten years. In fact, the additions of more electro touches from keyboardist Blaine Thurier and keyboardist / co-vocalist Kathryn Calder and violin and vocals from Simi Stone bring the band a new brightness.
“Whiteout Conditions,” the title track of their new record, sounds even better live, and I was delighted to hear “Dancehall Domine” from Brill Bruisers live for the first time (They nailed it, by the way.). The show cruised along well until a string broke on John Collins‘ bass and the band had a brief on-stage break while Mr. Collins worked some magic and had his axe swinging again in moments. They were soon they were back to a fine rendition of “Adventures in Solitude.”
The encore included “Challengers,” “Brill Bruisers,” “The Slow Descent in Alcoholism” (which I found funny considering they were playing in a brewery), and a rousing version of “The Bleeding Heart Show” that had us all cheering.
It was a fun night, and much needed by all. It’s no secret that depression and the 2016 presidential election fueled much of Newman’s songwriting for Whiteout Conditions, so the crisp sound, fun vibe, and power pop the New Pornographers brought were, for one night at least, an escape from the miasma of news, Tweets, rumors, and anger.
Keep your mind open.