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Oh Hello ... Newman

Posted by John / October 11, 2005

(Formerly titled Everyone Loves Pornography and changed just so there aren't three headlines in a row with pornography in them ... not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Photographs online and in print really don't accurately capture Carl Newman's bad hair. The head New Pornographer is a stellar songwriter, can harmonize in non-obvious ways over the din of his seven-piece band, and is no slouch on the guitar, either. But his hair is of grade 5 class picture quality -- almost bright orange, cropped too close, and curly enough that an attempted part creates the illusion of two distinct lumpy furroughs.

Which is so great. It's so great that what is surely the world's greatest pop band is led by a guy with bad hair.

I don't really have much more to say about Newman's hair. I will quickly note that Neko Case was wearing a pretty horrible jacket (sequins and fur, maybe?), however.

I only caught the last couple of songs in Immaculate Machine's set -- not enough to verify that they're a less-noisy New Pornographers. Destroyer (aka Dan Bejar and band) followed, and seemed to bore some of the people in the audience, though he endeared himself to others by devoting at least half his set to songs from Streethawk. Between two of Destroyer's songs, my colleague Matt Silver leaned over and told me that, to him, Bejar is great because of his unconventional lyrics. I'll paraphrase: He puts words together in ways that have never before appeared in songs. I won't argue with this, but for me the most impressive part of the (relatively short) Destroyer set was the parts between the words. Bejar showed more emotion each time he stomped the distortion pedal and bashed through a few bars with his able lead guitarist than he did when he sang. Their interaction was wonderfully rough. Nothing ever fit together perfectly, but nothing was supposed to.

So then the New Pornographers shuffle out. Frankly, Newman's hair is the best, but the rest of the band are refreshingly un-cool-looking as well. Except maybe the girl from Immaculate Machine. Anyway, they begin to play, and this miracle occurs in which they're obviously the coolest people in the world. Neko Case seemed to have brought her own monitors guy or girl, and for the first five or six songs would shoot him or her dirty looks offstage and ask for more or less volume in her earpiece. I'd almost be willing to call her a prima donna, but if being a prima donna permits her to sing like that, then I don't mind. Oh, that voice. At times it seemed like she could have shattered everyone in the room like glass even without the microphone.

Case's skill was such that on the few occasions when Bejar stumbled out to sing one of his NP tunes, drunk as a pope and getting visibly drunker by the minute, she was able to reel in his voice with her harmonies. Bejar definitely sounded better during his own set, but his wasted persona is kind of his trademark, so what he subtracted in sound quality he gave back in entertainment value.

The two highlights of the show: The Bleeding Heart Show, and, dang, I wish I paid more attention to the names of songs, but the one Bejar sings with the lyrics "And the bells go No no no No no no No no no." Bleeding Heart Show, to me, is the definitive New Pornographers tune. Deliciously poppy, full of delirious harmonies and yet still also full of Newman's clever, deliberate departures from the expected. When they hit the first of that song's two crescendos, I had a weird déjà vu where I felt slightly outside of myself, and when they hit the second one, I lost all touch with irony and self-consciousness. I kind of hate that, normally, but this was virtually euphoric.

The Bejar tune was good for reasons mentioned before. At this point, Bejar was shitcanned and behaving not unlike some inebriated karaoke victim. But it wasn't bad, somehow, and, if anything, there was something profound about the contrast between his roughness and the rest of the band's virtuosity. It was like joy and pain all at once.



Matt / October 13, 2005 at 09:10 pm
The "no no no no" song is called Testament To Youth in Verse. :)<br><br>And I agree, The Bleeding Heart Show showcases the band at their best, the highlight of the show for me! Amazing concert...
Matt / October 13, 2005 at 09:10 pm
The "no no no no" song is called Testament To Youth in Verse. :)

And I agree, The Bleeding Heart Show showcases the band at their best, the highlight of the show for me! Amazing concert...
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