On to the main event...
I've seen the New Pornographers twice before and enjoyed every single second of it. The New Pornographers have been hyped as a super group for years because of the members' involvement in numerous other projects (Destroyer, Neko Case solo, AC Newman, Immaculate Machine, Fancy, Zumpano...). Dan Bejar and Neko Case were absent from the line-up in Nashville but the remaining members still managed to put on an enjoyable show. I was surprised that they played certain songs that prominently featured the absent members though. My jaw dropped when they invited the front man from Okkervil River to perform the Dan Bejar penned "Myriad Harbor". It was kinda like when I saw REM a few years ago and Pete Yorn replaced Patti Smith on "E-Bow the Letter". It just wasn't right to me. But hey, what do I know? Everyone there ate it up and was singing along like it was the best song of the night. On the positive side, I really enjoyed most of the selections played that spanned all four albums. For the encore, they did an excellent cover of the ELO favorite "Don't Bring Me Down" (available for download as a track off of their live album on iTunes). I also thought Katherine Calder did a good job filling Neko Case's shoes for the night. Her voice is not as powerful or distinct as Neko's but she held her own while trading parts with Carl Newman. All is all an excellent way to spend a rainy Friday night in Nashville. -Nicole
Most people agree that Bright Eyes sucks now. Sure, Conor Oberst’s sprawling, doom-laden, hyper-literate lyrics are still present, as are his songs with seemingly unrelated verses loosely tied to a theme of doubt, change, or end times, but gone is the drunken fervor and urgent musicianship that made Lifted… so believable. Last night, Okkervil River succumbed to the same fate. Perhaps, had I been able to hear Will Sheff’s similarly verbose lyrics over the Cannery Ballroom’s lackluster sound, I may have found the voice of a new poet laureate of indie rock. Instead, I saw a guy with lots of bangs over-emoting to songs composed around G, C, and D. The musicianship of the band just was not urgent or passionate enough to make up for Sheff’s squeals and honks. To be honest, I have only truly listened to his second record, Down the River of Golden Dreams, so I was not familiar with many of the songs he played last night. However, I saw on stage what I experienced when listening to the record – I was stunned the first time I listened, but upon third or fourth listen I found myself tuning out his somewhat pubescent vocal cracks and shrieks and trying to decipher the lyrics to see what he’s talking about. There were a few great moments at the show, at the beginning of the set, but they were few and far between. But, as I like to end everything on a positive note, I gotta give props to a backing band of bald dudes that want to rock without following any superficial trends. To a husky rocker like myself, they looked pretty cool and genuine. Rating: 2 out of 5 salty snaxxx.
Though the night started off slowly, at least musically, it ended with a bang. The New Pornographers rocked it. I must say I had high expectations when I saw their gear – Peavy Bass, Gibson Explorer, Guild Les Paul style, Nordlead synth, 2 macbooks, and Orange, Matchless, and Ampeg amps. Nice. This would certainly put the power in power pop. Like my experience with Okkervil River, I was only familiar with a couple of NP records, but in this case my inexperience was not a hindrance. NP were energetic, exciting, and fun. I really got into the second half of their set, which included “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” “Bleeding Heart Show,” “Don’t Bring Me Down,” (a bitchin’ cover indeed,) “The Laws Have Changed,” “The Jessica Numbers,” and my personal favorite tune of the night, the title track off their new album, “Challengers.” They really brought the thunder with their set list, and essentially played only high-energy numbers that would keep a moderate fan like myself entertained and boppin’ along. I must say, NP’s secret weapon is their drummer, a slightly-tipsy Andy Serkis look-alike whose arsenal of big-rock drum moves and “Are you ready to rock?” (he really said that!) count-offs made for big fun. Some of his favorite moves with the stixxx were the finger twirl, the toss-and-catch, the bite-the-spoon, the play-with-one-hand-while-grabbing-a-Corona, and the pop-the-top-off-the-Corona-with-the-stick-while-playing-a-4x4-beat. His antics livened up the more stiff performances of the other people in the band that no one knows their names. Unfortunately, Neko was not present, but their performance did not really suffer for it. AC Newman’s beard made up for it. I truly enjoyed myself and plan to purchase Challengers today at Grimey’s record sale. Rating: 4 out of 5 salty snaxxx.- Manley
*All photos courtesy of Jenny at J Anne Photography*