Crate label for Request Brand fruit, c. 1920
If there's a free show playing in the park in your town, and the headliner is the world's best power-pop band, the question of whether to attend is a no-brainer. The New Pornographers are not really an exciting band, but they're musicians who understand their strengths and perform with consummate professionalism - they have a deep songbook of excellent pop songs, and they're touring on (possibly) the strongest record of their career. They have five strong vocalists, including the elusive and eccentric Dan Bejar, who has figured out to tour with his more easy-going bandmates, chilling out offstage with a beverage until he's coaxed onstage to provide a lead vocal on one of his compositions. If any show is a sure thing, it's this one.
Openers the Dodos played a decent set - for me, their songs don't really translate well to a live show, with the obvious exception of their best-known tune "Fools". The New Pornographers took the stage at twilight (appropriately), and launched into one of my favorites, "Sing Me Spanish Techno". I knew it was coming because there have been several good write-ups of the band's current tour that have made it evident that their shows are not varying much. Bejar wanders in and out, Case and Newman banter a little, and the band plows through a set of fifteen to twenty perfectly-composed and perfectly-played tunes. I've seen them play four (maybe five?) times, but it was fun to see them play a huge show in the park to a crowd of 500+ - they seemed to be having a great time as well.
Only a couple tunes got into the setlist that I would have cut ("Twin Cinema" and "It's Only Divine Right"), but they hit all the high points in their discography with a only couple exceptions. "Silver Jenny Dollar", "Adventures in Solitude", "Mass Romantic", and "Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk" were all surprising standouts for me, but I was waiting to see if they'd drag out "Letter From an Occupant" for the encore. I was actually excited to see how a huge crowd reacted to the song (the best power-pop song ever written), but when they announced they had one last song, they tried to drag Bejar back on stage one more time. He sauntered out, huddled with the band, shrugged and left - what was going on? The band then launched into "My Rights Vs. Yours", which I guess is their new "go-to" song for a hit closer, but for me it just demonstrated that the song is the weakest of the New Pornographers' singles. They redeemed the show's finale, however, when Bejar then reappeared and ended the show with another of my favorites, "Testament to Youth in Verse", leading the huge crowd in the song's "no no no no" coda as the stars came out. Overall, not an exciting show per se, but thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless.
"Testament to Youth in Verse" by the New Pornographers