On A Saturday night, Canadian “supergroup,” The New Pornographers, overtook the Fox Theater in Oakland as part of the annual Noise Pop Festival. Perhaps one of the most acclaimed bands of this year’s Noise Pop Lineup, fans of all ages came out the enjoy the show. Kids interweaved throughout the crowd as long time fans relished the nostalgia of the band that formed in 1999.
The seven members took the stage for a cheery and evocative set without one of their key players, Neko Case. They didn’t miss a beat without Case, who has enjoyed success as a solo performer, and have embraced her occasional absences since 2005, bringing in Kathryn Calder to fill the void during live shows. There’s still no denying the star power of Case, who performed with the band at last year’s Treasure Island Music Festival, flashing new tattoos that read “Scorned as Timber” and “Beloved of the Sky” in bold script on each forearm. But with most supergroups, there’s a challenge of keeping the lineup in tact. Most of these types of groups really only collaborate for an album (Them Crooked Vultures), or have players leave permanently for solo engagements (Broken Social Scene).
The core of the New Pornographers, led by main songwriter Carl Newman, was solid and tight. Their sound is unique, mixing elements of 80’s synth pop and nineties indie pop rock. It’s almost like if Robin Scherbatsky from the sitcom How I Met Your Mother became a legitimate pop sensation mentored by Blondie, backed by fellow Canadians Arcade Fire, and occasionally joined by a Bob Dylan doppelganger. Their songs are cheery and jubilant, and Newman and Calder sang beautifully succinct harmonies, at times even pulling off four part harmonies with other members in the band.
The pairing of Calder on keys with multi instrumentalist Blaine Thurier on synthesizers creates dense layers to their music. Thurier also controlled samples that created subtle abstract sounds throughout their songs, played the harmonica and even broke out the volatile Melodica, a small handheld keyboard powered by breathing through a connected tube. Dan Bejar, who’s mainly recognized as the frontman for Destroyer, came out for a handful of songs throughout the set.
Newman was fairly chatty with the nearly sold out crowd, at one point mocking Bejar’s slight resemblance to Bob Dylan, “this next song’s called ‘Blowin in the Wind’ he joked before breaking into “War on the East Coast.” Newman also acknowledged his history with the city, saying “I first came to Oakland in the 90’s, it was a lot different then. I remember thinking ‘this is the day I’m going to die.’ And then I rose like the Phoenix and started this band.” And like a testament to his survival, they played a jam-packed set with fan favorites like “Myriad Harbor” and “All the Old Showstoppers” from 2007’s Challangers, “Bill Bruisers” and “Champions of Red Wine” from their latest album, Bill Bruisers, “Use It” and the “Bleeding Heart Show” from 2005’s Twin Cinema, and even reached all the way back to 2000’s Mass Romantic to play a couple tunes.
The Slow Descent into Alcoholism
War on the East Coast
The Laws Have Changed
You Tell Me Where
Testament to Youth in Verse
All the Old Showstoppers
Adventures in Solitude
Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk
Champions of Red Wine
Born With A Sound
Ballad of a Comeback Kid
Breakin’ the Law
The Bleeding Heart Show