And so I returned to the Groove FM Jazz Festival and the Pantages Playhouse for the second show of the "indie package" - Canadian indie supergroup The New Pornographers. This was a make-up show for the Winnipeg gig they had to cancel earlier, and it was my first time seeing them live. Due to their supergroup nature, not all members are present at all shows, and unfortunately, at this one, both Neko Case and Dan Bejar were absent, and thus Kathryn Calder, AC Newman's niece, took over all of Case's vocals with delicate aplomb. The audience was definitely lively, often shouting out to the band, and they still put on an excellent show live despite the fact they were missing a quarter of their members, but at the same time, I didn't quite feel like I saw a complete show. I don't know if this was because a quarter of the band were missing and because they were vocalists, or because I'm not as huge a fan of the band as I am of others, or because the some of the ludicrous banter coming from the audience appeared to be making the band feel a bit awkward (continuous requests for Freebird were annoying me and no doubt annoying them as well).
Following a rather raucous and fun set from Winnipeg mod-popsters and Mint Records labelmates Novillero, who also managed to get the crowd dancing early, The New Pornographers took the stage led by Newman with his Challengers-emblazoned guitar, and launched into a set that included Challengers, Use It, All the Old Showstoppers, Unguided, Adventures in Solitude, Stacked Crooked, All the Things That Go to Make Heaven and Earth, Testament To Youth in Verse, and Twin Cinema. My personal highlights were hearing the bouncy, shuffling classic Mass Romantic played live, and singing and dancing along to Sing Me Spanish Techno - one of my favourites despite the fact it doesn't seem trendy to state as such. I was also impressed with the tender duet between Newman and Calder for Adventures in Solitude as both closed their eyes in rapt emotion. One point at which I really noted the fact members were absent was when I missed Bejar's vocals for Testament to Youth in Verse - the feel of the song seemed to shift from quirky to gentle and bland.
Newman attempted rather sarcastic banter with the audience (including a shot at Winnipeg's Burton Cummings - the audience's utter silence spoke volumes about the crowd's apathy for their "hometown hero"), and at one point a rather vocal older man, who kept screaming how much he loved the band, decided to yell "We still love you," prompting Newman to ask "Despite what?" in a bewildered tone.
Somehow the set still seemed too short and I was still missing key songs I wanted to hear like Myriad Harbour, Mutiny, I Promise You, and Falling Through Your Clothes. There were also some sound issues where the bass appeared to be overpowering the vocals, muddying the sound so much that I grew frustrated - I was thankful when one of the audience members piped up and told them to turn the bass down a bit, but it came too late in the show to really make too much of a difference.
The set proper concluded with a nearly endless cover of ELO's Don't Bring Me Down, which was fun and a crowd pleaser, but I think I would have preferred a more powerful original song as a closer. If anything, the cover might have worked better as an encore number, especially since they had a disappointingly short two-song encore, finishing with usual show ender The Slow Descent into Alcoholism. I was left with a strange feeling of incompletion and I still don't know whether I should look at the show as an above average gig for a regular group or a below average gig for a supergroup. I would really like to see The New Pornographers live again to get a better sense of how I feel about them, and hopefully, I'll get to see the full line-up next time.
Mass Romantic - The New Pornographers
Adventures in Solitude - The New Pornographers