Together, as it turns out, is more than just an album title as all eight members of The New Pornographers were on-hand for their pre-Lollapalooza performance, including the scarlet siren Neko Case and the prolific misanthrope Dan Bejar. Both appeared to have been woken up right before the show as they looked disheveled. Bejar actually resembled a P.O.W. released from his cell only to perform a song, then it was right back to the cage until it was time to go on again.
The set kicked off right with “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” from 2005’s Twin Cinema, the general consensus band apex, and rolled throguh a nice chunk of each album. The song choices displayed a knack for the band knowing their stronger, more crowd-friendly tracks. Most of the songs were sung in four-part harmony with Case, band leader A.C. Newman, keyboardist and random percussionist Kathryn Calder, and drummer Kurt Dahle (who doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his immense contribution to the band). Listening to that makes you recall The Partridge Family or The Jackson 5 because it is so rare for a real band (not a boy “band”) to sing together like this. It is also incredibly rare that a band have so many talented members and be more than the sum of their parts. So-called “supergroups” Them Crooked Vultures or Monsters Of Folk are only as strong as their weakest link (I’m talking about you, Josh Homme).
Speaking of weak-links, there were really only two songs that I really could have done without and they are both, unsurprisingly, by Dan Bejar. “Jackie,” and her cobra-dressed sequel comprise the most unwelcome recurring character arch in popular music this side of Metallica’s “The Unforgiven,”. The good news is that Bejar has yet to write a third installment. Give him time. That aside, Bejar’s writing is responsible for the best surprise and highlight of the night with “Execution Day,” from 2000’s Mass Romantic. While not a song that instantly gets you jumping out of your seat, it was adapted and extended wonderfully to the stage. There was even a moment when Bejar took a step back and heard his refrain being sung in the four-part harmony a capella, and he seemed to be overwhelmed. It was as if this is beyond how amazing his song could have sounded when he imagined it.
There were plenty of other wonderful tracks both new (“Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk,” and “Up In The Dark,”) and old (“Use It,” and “Twin Cinema,”) as well as the two high-profiled part-time members having a chance to shine: Case with “Mass Romantic,” and “The Laws Have Changed,” from Electric Version, Bejar with “Silver Jenny Dollar,” and “Myriad Harbour,” from Challengers. In the middle stood Carl “A.C.” Newman, the glue of the band only too willing to share the spotlight and enjoy the results. Just like the rest of us.
Concert poster designed by Dan Crosshair
Concert images courtesy of Max Blau/The Chicagoist