Monday, October 10th, 2005
Sing Me Spanish Techno
If you were looking for a high concentration of people who value pop music over family last night (including yours truly), the Phoenix would have been a good place to start. Though not quite sold out, it was packed to the gills with folks skipping out on Thanksgiving dinner in order to spend some quality time with The New Pornographers and their extended family. It was a good sized crowd, one that still probably wouldn’t have filled one-third of the Docks, where this show was originally booked. Though it caused grief for the underagers, going from all-ages to licensed, it surely made for a better experience.
I’d seen Immaculate Machine once before, a couple years ago at Wavelength. I have to admit, though, I wasn’t paying too much attention to them since my band was on after them and I was a little preoccupied. And though we played the best show of our (brief) career, they’re the ones still at it and playing the Phoenix on one of the hottest tours of the Fall, so I guess they win. The cynical might have assumed they were only on this bill because of nepotism (singer Kathryn Calder is head Pornographer Carl Newman’s neice), so in that sense Immaculate Machine had something to prove. I admit I fell somewhat in that camp, but am happy to report that after seeing them power through their half-hour set, it doesn’t matter how they got the gig because they deserve it. I didn’t remember them being this good two years ago, that’s for sure. The songs were catchy, the musicianship was good and the multi-part vocals solid. These kids know their way around a pop song, and while they might be a couple albums or good producer away from doing something really special, they’ve got the goods to do so.
Destroyer, I’ve never listened to. I quite like Dan Bejar’s contributions to the New Pornographers but was always afraid, in the back of my mind, that outside the rigid pop structures of the New Pr0ns that his solo work would be too whacked out for me to really like, and then I’d feel like an uncouth savage. I knew a few people in attendance who had made a point of saying that they were really going just to see Destroyer and were mostly indifferent to the Pornographers. That seemed kind of silly, since their nearly $30 ticket netted them exactly half an hour of Dan Bejar’s idiosyncratic, skewed-blues singer-songwriter material. Though completely unfamiliar with the material, I was still able to enjoy listening to Bejar’s curiously elastic voice and found his set intriguing. I may have to investigate Destroyer’s work further, maybe with the new album Destroyer’s Rubies when it comes out in February.
This New Pornographers tour was not one to be missed as far as fans were concerned, since it would feature the complete lineup for the first and possibly/probably last time. Dan Bejar had never gone on the road with them before, thus forcing them to shelve some of their best material till now, and coordinating tours with Neko Case’s schedule will only get more difficult as her solo star continues to rise. Maybe they’ll pull it together again for occasional shows, but I really doubt they’ll be able to stage a full tour like this again – it’s a damn good thing, then, that they put on a show to remember. From the opening chords of “Twin Cinema”, the band unleashed a non-stop attack of irresistable pop hooks that got everyone (around me, anyway) dancing, clapping and generally carrying on. Pure pop goodness, one song after another. I needed insulin.
Despite playing as a seven-piece (eight whenever Dan Bejar wandered onstage, beer in hand, to take vocals on one of his songs), the sound was perfectly balanced between guitars and keys and gave the multi-part vocals plenty of room to take the fore. Not surprisingly, the loudest cheers came whenever Neko took the mic, but for my money the finest vocal moments came on Bejar’s songs, when he, Case and Newman all harmonized with their totally distinct but simpatico voices. Throw in more harmonies from Calder and drummer Kurt Dahle and it was almost too much to take. They packed a lot of songs (and some mildly awkward attempts at stage banter) into an hour-fifteen – from the number of requests shouted out during the two encores, they didn’t get to everyone’s favourites but I can’t imagine anyone left the show disappointed.
Photos! The lighting was bright, if oddly-coloured this time around. And since they relied mostly on the stage lights behind the band, those of us up front got cooked just as much, if not more, than the band. Not a huge variety in shots but when you’ve got that many people onstage, moving-around real estate tends to be limited.
East coast Calexico/Iron & Wine tour dates are starting to come to light. No Toronto date yet, but seeing as how they’re in Montreal on December 8 and Detroit on December 10, it stands to reason they’ll need to stop for gas halfway down the 401 in Toronto sometime around the 9th. I’m guessing they’ll be at The Phoenix, hopefully not the Opera House.
RIP, Tom Cheek. Tom was the radio announcer for the Toronto Blue Jays from their first game back in 1977 through June of last year when he had to step down first to attend his father’s funeral, and then to treat the brain cancer that ultimately took his life. I listened to many, many baseball games called by him and partner Jerry Howarth. A sad day for Toronto baseball fans. Friends and associates reminisce.
np – Mark Eitzel / Demos Before Love Songs