After a couple of aborted attempts during earlier visits to Atlanta, I finally saw the New Pornographers at the Variety Playhouse last night. So here's a brief review.
I'd been hearing bits and pieces about the first band of the evening, Immaculate Machine, and was very pleased when I arrived very early in their set. At first, the three-piece from was a little loose with the keyboards sort of dominating the rest of the music and the harmonies employed on most of the song, but they improved as the set went on. Once the levels were set, I enjoyed their music. They may have a bit of growing to do until they find their own true sound, they are off to a pretty good start. The songs where all three members--Brooke Gallupe (guitar), Kathryn Calder (keyboards), and Luke Kozlowski (drums)--harmonized most of the lyrics probably were my favorites. Their studio music has a little more polish than they showed onstage, and I've been enjoying their tunes all day. I'm sure the live versions will get even better over time as they ascend the card. Final analysis: I really enjoyed their set and even bought a CD (probably the highest praise in these days of online music).
I came to the next act, Destroyer, completely cold, having no idea what to expect. I had heard a good deal of buzz surrounding driving force Dan Bejar's music, but I really didn't have any idea what kind of sound was forthcoming. If first impressions are at all key in whether I like a band or not, I'd have to say I'll probably not buy much of their music. Of course, some of my favorite music is music that took a while to really grow on me, even if I didn't like it the first time around. The musicians were very solid, but sometimes Bejar's incantatory singing style was a bit offputting. On the balance, I think I ended up liking about half the songs they played. The only one that really sticks out in my mind as exceptional, however, was "City of Daughters."
Does anyone want to convince me that I'm off-base on my 50% estimate? I'm willing to give them a listen based on the songs he's written for The New Pornographers and the few songs I liked, but right now there's enough new music to keep me occupied and keep Destroyer on my back burner. Convince me!
To end the evening, The New Pornographers took the stage for a rare full-strength performance. Joining them was the newest pornographer Kathryn Calder (from Immaculate Machine) on keyboards. (Interesting aside: she's AC Newman's long lost niece.) Adding Dan Bejar (of Destroyer) to perform his songs as well made the evening a treat that many haven't seen, since Destroyer's schedule probably precludes their touring together very often. (He also seemed much more engaged for these songs than his own set.) I'm sure this issue will arise more and more frequently next year when Neko Case has a new album to support as well. While Calder's voice doesn't pack the sonic wallop of Case's, she could probably fill in admirably (though I'm very happy to have seen the band with Case).
With the addition of Calder and Bejar to the usual pornographers and sharing the drummer with Destroyer, the evening really had the feel of a big old BC family reunion taking place on the stage. And was that stage crowded at times (eight people performing on the smallish stage of the Variety). I'm sure they would have had more room at the Tabernacle, but they made out OK in the end.
As for the sound itself. Just what I expected--high energy power pop. The crowd was enthusiastic throughout. The crowd reached fever pitch a few songs in when Neko Case ripped through "Mass Romantic" and kept their energy throughout the show and both encores. All the songs where ably played, even with some new touches from the keyboards and the addition of another female voice, which Case quipped she'd been asking Santa for. The highlights for me had to be "Mass Romantic", and "Sing Me Spanish Techno", which opened their first encore.
For those of you not in Atlanta who may have to chance to catch them on tour this time around, I'd advise that you do it. It was quite a treat to hear songs they usually couldn't play in concert because of Bejar's absence ("Jackie Dressed in Cobras"), but I'm sure Neko Case will be making fewer appearances in the coming years as well, and you just have to hear that voice in this type of setting. Goosebumps I tell you.
NP: "Underwear" - Pulp