Sunday, November 23, 2014

The New Pornographers @ Union Transfer, Philadelphia, PA 11/20/14

When you love a band and you have never seen them in concert sometimes you never know what you are going to get.

When the Brill Bruisers came out I was ecstatic.  I was hooked on the release or the leadoff, title track single.  When it became available for streaming a week before its release I kept it on a constant loop.  I loved it.  Even my kids new the lyrics because I played it everywhere we went.  It was pure pop ecstasy. It was like a carnival.  It was fun!  It made me happy. 

I had been a fan of The New Pornographers with the release of their third album, Twin Cinema.  I had downloaded 'Use It' from E-Music as a recommendation.

I immediately fell in love.  I went back and discovered their first two albums and then delved deeper into each members solo material and other projects.  I devoured Neko Case, A.C. Newman, Destroyer and more.  This was a brilliant super group that I just could not get enough of.  It seemed that every move they made was brilliant.  Even when they brought on Kathyrn Calder to replace Neko Case on tours that conflicted with Neko's solo touring they realized that she was an important part of the band and made her permanent.  My obsession furthered with their fourth release, Challengers.  It was their first album that I thought was brilliant from start to finish.  Each album was a little different.  This one took a new direction and I loved it.

In 2010 when Together was released they kind of lost me.  It was one of those cases where I loved the previous album way to much.  I have since grown to appreciate it but at the time it just kind of lost me. 

Fast forward four years and with the release of Brill Bruisers it was as if I was discovering them for the first time again.  When their tour was announced and it was decided that they would play one of my favorite venues in Philly, The Union Transfer, and the opening act would be The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, I knew there was no way I was going to miss this one.  I even went to their website and bought presale tickets directly through the band.  It was finally going to happen.  I was going to see The New Pornographers in concert!

As with any concert I was anxious before I left. I never relax until I am parked, inside the venue, and have a good spot to take photos.  Everything seemed to be falling into place.  The babysitter arrived early.  I got a great parking spot.  I picked up my ticket and bought my tour shirt.

When I walked in I was surprised that I was able to walk right up to the barricade.  It was surprising as it was a sold out show.

I was talking to the couple next to me about the opening act when I happened to see A.C. Newman himself walk through the crowd. He tried to get into the back stage door to the right of the stage but it was locked.  I leaned over the barricade and waved as to say I knew who he was but he U.F.O.'d me.  That basically mean he saw something, but he wasn't quite sure what it was so he pretended that he didn't see anything.  He walked across the floor, with his head down as to not bring attention to himself, to the other side of the stage and went backstage.  I was just shocked that everyone was here to see him and no one realized that he was among us.

The lights finally dimmed and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart took the stage.  As soon as their instruments made a sound they all started to groove. Each of them moving to the music in a different way.  Each of them showing that they were into what they were doing.  You could feel it in the music.  It was electric. 

I took out my camera and managed to snap off a few blurry pics before I was approached by a security guard.  He told me that unless I had a press pass there was no photography.  I guess I was just sort of surprised.  Typically if this is the case it is posted somewhere.  I have been to this venue with no photography shows and it is always known. I was disappointed but I put my camera away.  In a way it was liberating.  I was left to enjoy the show.  It wasn't long before I was enjoying not taking photos.

Both Kip and Jacob are native Philadelphians so they were happy to have their mothers in the crowd.  I felt that the band was giving us all that they had.  There dream pop songs were moving the crowd.  Before we knew what was hitting us they were done. Although I was sad to see it end I could not wait for The New Pornographers!!!

They hit the stage and they hit us with the lush arrangements and harmonies of 'Brill Bruisers'.  You could feel the energy in the crowd.  On and on the hits came coming.

By the third song they were playing one of my favorites, 'Use It'.  You would think that I would be more excited though.  Something just didn't seem quite right.  In front of me is one of my favorite bands.  An all-star lineup. Playing all of the songs I wanted to here.  And they were killing it.  Yet there was something missing.  Just a week before I was in this venue watching Jenny Lewis and I commented how happy she looked playing her songs.  I stood in front of this band and I wondered were they happy?  Were they enjoying their craft?  Were they happy to be here?  I just didn't know.  Directly in front of me was keyboardist Blaine Thurier and I do not believe he smiled once.  A.C. Newman didn't really make eye contact with the crowd.  Dan Bejar would leave the stage if it wasn't a song he was involved with.  I almost felt like I was at the zoo watching them through bars of a cage.  They were putting on a show for us but it just kind of felt robotic.  Hollow.  The only exception was Kathryn Calder who was moving her body too and fro and had a constant smile on her face.  It seemed ironic that the songs that make me incredibly happy didn't seem to have the same effect on the people that created them.

A few songs in A.C. Newman finally addressed the crowd.  He commented that they were collectively focused on rocking for us.  Maybe that explained it.  Perhaps they were so intent. on playing one great show that it took all of their focus.  Maybe it was just me because the audience seemed to be having a great time.

As their massive set went on I wondered what could they possible end with that we hadn't heard.  What would make the crowd go wild?  They played an incredible career spanning set.  They finished their main set with Mass Romantic. I turned to look at the crowd and they were hopping up and down in unison.  The energy was enough to get me moving too. 

They came back out for an encore and played another 3 songs including 'Dancehall Domine'.  This seemed to amp the crowd up another notch.  When they left I assumed that would be it but they took the stage for a third time with two more songs including 'A Slow Descent into Alcoholism'.  I think I went wild this time.  It was a great ending.  Neko thanked us and asked us to be good to ourselves and each other.  I hung around long enough to get a setlist and headed home.

I had mixed feelings after I left.  I saw a great show but was it really great.  They played 26 songs, everything I wanted to hear, to perfection.  Something just seemed to be missing.  It was like being in the Hall of Presidents.  I wondered what about what they do brings them pleasure.  I wanted to see them enjoy themselves.  I wanted them to let go and have fun like we had.  Maybe they did and I just didn't realize it.  At least I hope they did.

See you at the next show!


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