Sunday, May 7, 2017

Concert Review: The New Pornographers @ Union Transfer - Philadelphia, PA 04/27/17

The biggest challenge for any band is to stay relevant to their existing fan base while continuing to grow. The New Pornographers passed this test with flying colors with their new album, Whiteout Conditions. They focused on their power pop roots and writing of Carl Newman to give us their most consistent record to date. How well does this new focus translate to their live show? Brilliantly!

It was a challenging night in Philadelphia. The opening night of the NFL draft was occuring no more than ten blocks away from Union Transfer, the venue at which The New Pornographers would be playing.  The Penn Relays were being held this same weekend and the Phillies had just finished hosting and afternoon game.  I wasn't sure how it was going to affect the turnout.  At first, the floor was thin with the typical line-waiters eager to get a good spot on the floor and balcony.  I was one of those people, perched high in the front of the balcony.  The couple next to me debated who liked the band first and what their favorite songs were.  As they did, the crowd began to swell and before I knew it, I could no longer see the floor.  It was wall-to-wall people.

I first saw The New Pornographers live in November of 2014 on their Brill Bruisers tour.  I was excited to finally see one of my favorite bands live.  Although they sounded spot on as if I were listening to their CD, there was a disconnect between the band and the audience. I also thought it was strange that Dan Bejar only took the stage during his songs.  It was almost as if I was watching them through the bars of a cage.  With their new unified vision, I was hopeful this would change their live show.

As a photographer, the first thing I noticed was there was no photo pit.  This allowed the fans closer access to the stage for a more intimate, small club setting.  When the band took the stage they appeared to be more of a band rather than a group of solo artists playing together,  They came out ripping with "High Ticket Attractions".  It was exactly what the crowd wanted to hear; they were going crazy from the first note.

Song after song was like a high speed chase.  The band was shooting for "Krautrock meets The 5th Dimension," and all of those components where there.  They blistered through songs such as "Twin Cinema," "Whiteout Conditions," and "Dancehall Domine," before finally slowing it down with "Adventures in Solitude," about ten songs into the set.  Carl Newman loves conventional power pop music but his approach to it is anything but conventional.  He takes quirky indie pop and layers it with sugary harmonies to create something entirely new. His songs dare you to not sing along, and at times I could hear the crowd over their own microphones.  Fans on the floor were yelling between songs for the house to turn the vocals up. Personally, I liked that the band lowered their vocals into part of the wall of sound.

For the tour they are accompanied by Simi Stone on violin, who also helps round out their harmonies.  The band interacted more with the crowd than the previous time I had seen them live.  Carl and Neko played off of each other and you could feel their energy.  Carl joked that Neko's coat looked like a disco ball in the mirror, she spun around and laughed.  They were having fun and the crowd was loving it. Instead of staring at the stage, they were dancing and spilling drinks.  They were getting lost in the show, which is exactly how the music of The New Pornographers makes me feel when I listen to them through headphones mowing the lawn in grapevine dance steps or in the car while singing at the tops of my lungs drowning out the eye rolls of my kids.  I get lost, sometimes literally.  Tonight they were living up to their music.

This concert was as fully realized as The New Pornographers current release.  High tempo power pop that flowed as though it was all written at once.  The band highlighted Whiteout Conditions throughout the set.  "Play Money" and "Colosseums" were two songs that the crowd were excited to hear.  Dan Bejar was honored with a version of "Testament to Youth in Verse" with sparkling harmonies and the set was closed out with the only song they played from their debut album, "Mass Romantic."

The crowd was in a frenzy when The New Pornographers came back out for their encore.  There were still so many hits that had not been played.  As their catalog continues to grow, it becomes impossible to play every song that everyone wants to hear but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The sheer number of great songs they have written yields endless possibilities for future shows.  They could perform an entire tour with a different experience every night.  I badly wanted to hear "Use It," but they ended this particular night with "We've Been Here Before," "Brill Bruisers," and "Bleeding Heart Show," from Twin Cinema.

This night was special to me.  It was a night of redemption for The New Pornogrpahers.  I was able to see one of my favorite bands perform in a way that I had always envisioned.  They played one great power pop show.  From start to finish.  It was the performance I had hoped for the first time out and they delivered this time around.  With so many great things happening in Philadelphia on this particular night this was the star that shone.  Even if they didn't play "Use It."

Whiteout Conditions by The New Pornographers is available on iTunes and Spotify. Catch them in a town near you on their Headlining Tour* or with Spoon†.

April 12 /// Los Angeles, CA /// Theatre at The Ace Hotel*
April 13 /// Oakland, CA /// Fox Theater*
April 14 /// Bend, OR /// Midtown Ballroom* 
April 15 /// Seattle, WA /// Moore Theatre*
April 16 /// Portland, OR /// Wonder Ballroom*
April 18 /// Minneapolis, MN /// First Avenue*
April 19 /// Chicago, IL /// The Metro*
April 20 /// Milwaukee, WI /// Pabst Theater*
April 21 /// Chicago, IL /// The Metro*
April 22 /// Columbus, OH /// Newport Music Hall*
April 25 /// Boston, MA /// House of Blues*
April 26 /// New York, NY /// Terminal 5*
April 27 /// Philadelphia, PA /// Union Transfer*
April 28 /// Washington, DC /// 9:30 Club (sold out)*
April 29 /// Washington, DC /// 9:30 Club* 
May 1 /// Raleigh, NC /// Ritz*
May 2 /// Atlanta, GA /// Variety Playhouse*
May 3 /// New Orleans, LA /// Tipitina’s*
May 4 /// Houston, TX /// White Oak Music Hall*
May 5 /// Dallas, TX /// Granada Theater*
May 6 /// Austin, TX /// Stubb’s* 
May 9 /// London, UK /// Electric Ballroom
May 10 /// Amsterdam, NL /// Paradiso Noord/Tolhuistuin
May 11 /// Berlin, DE /// Lido
May 13 /// Oslo, NO /// Vulkan Arena
May 14 /// Stockholm, SE /// Debaser Strand
May 16 /// Copenhagen, DK /// Loppen
May 18 /// Paris, FR /// Divan Du Monde
July 18 /// Charlotte, NC /// Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amph.†
July 19 /// Charlottesville, VA /// Sprint Pavilion†
July 22 /// Portland, ME /// State Theatre†
July 23 /// Montreal, QC /// Metropolis†
July 26 /// Pittsburgh, PA /// Stage AE†
August 11 /// Denver, CO /// Velorama Festival

See you when the needle drops!


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