Wednesday, October 24th, 2007
All The Old Showstoppers
Now I remember why I try to get show reviews done as soon as possible – my memory’s not what it used to be. I remember Sunday night, I was at the Phoenix. There were some bands. They played. People applauded. Some danced in place.
More specifically. First up was Baltimoran Benjy Ferree (not to be confused with Baltimora), whose Leaving The Nest I gave thoughts on a little while back – generally positive, but not much of an impression left. His live show did better, starting off in an orchestral-folk vibe but rapidly ramping up to a rollicking rock crescendo in the span of barely 25 minutes.
The Delgados always had a loyal following in Toronto so it’s a bit unfortunate that Emma Pollock would make her solo debut opening up for another act rather than in front of her own audience. But on the strength of the songs from Watch The Fireworks, I’d like to think she made more than a few new fans. As I mentioned after seeing her at SxSW, it was good to see that she hadn’t gone the folky, singer-songwriter route in going it alone. She’s still very much writing rock songs though they did lack much of the quirks and idiosyncrasies that made Delgados records so unique. With a few exceptions, set closer “The Optimist” in particular, her new stuff is considerably more straightforward and while it’s all quite enjoyable – she hasn’t lost her distinct melodic sensibilities – it does make me miss The Delgados even more.
Though they’d already played Toronto twice this year, this was The New Pornographers’ first visit since the release of their latest album Challengers and the first to feature the full band, including Neko Case and Dan Bejar. Now having seen the Pornos both with and without these two, it goes without saying that they bring a lot to the band. Though perfectly capable with the core six members, Dan’s songs only really sound right with Dan singing them and as good as Kathryn Calder has been, there’s only one Neko.
Even with the whole gang along for the ride, the New Pornographers have never been what you’d call an outstanding live act – their strength is their amazing songs, not their showmanship and this performance was no exception. The band seemed curiously detached for the first half hour or so and certainly far less excited about being there than the audience. Even Case, normally so gregarious on her own, was unusually demure. At one point, while Bejar was trying to get a guitar strapped on, there was an extended silence that not one of the seven other members onstage saw fit to try and fill, opting instead to stand there and avoid making eye contact with 1000 people. Very odd. It was as if they hoped that the big flashing “New Pornographers” marquee backdropping the stage would compensate.
But to be fair, the band was there to play, not chat, and eventually they did warm things up both in terms of stage presence and song selection in back-loading the set with the older, peppier material. And as much fun as it is to hear “Electric Version” and “Sing Me Spanish Techno”, as well as see a progressively drunker Dan Bejar stagger up to the mic for his numbers, the highlight for me was one of the slower numbers from Challengers. The harmonies between Carl Newman, Case and Calder on “Adventures In Solitude” were stunning but even more impressive was Calder’s solo performance on the bridges. Since she joined the band she’s been regarded largely as a Neko pinch-hitter but seeing her step up the mic and, for my money, provide the most memorable moment of the show. What I said earlier about there only being one Neko? Still true, but Calder’s proven that she’s not standing in her shadow anymore.
The show finished relatively strongly with “Letter From An Occupant” closing out the second encore, though it wasn’t quite enough to overcome the lethargic start and it evened out to a decent though not great show. Points, however, to whomever decided to bring up the house lights to the sounds of Olivia Newton-John’s “Xanadu”. I never get tired of hearing that. Seriously. The Pornos already have the big flashing sign, maybe next time they should bring roller skates.
eye, JAM and Chart also have reviews of the show while JAM, The Ottawa Citizen and Tonawonda News have conversations with Carl Newman. The Montreal Gazette and On Milwaukee have features on Emma Pollock.
Photos: The New Pornographers, Emma Pollock, Benjy Ferree @ The Phoenix – October 21, 2007
MP3: The New Pornographers – “My Rights Versus Yours”
MP3: The New Pornographers – “Myriad Harbour”
MP3: Emma Pollock – “Adrenaline”
MP3: Emma Pollock – “Limbs”
MP3: Benjy Ferree – “In The Countryside”
Video: The New Pornographers – “Challengers” (YouTube)
Video: Emma Pollock – “Adrenaline” (YouTube)
Video: Emma Pollock – “Acid Test” (YouTube)
Video: Benjy Ferree – “In The Countryside”
MySpace: The New Pornographers
MySpace: Emma Pollock
MySpace: Benjy Ferree
Wireless Bollinger and UberDrivel interview Stars, whose three-night stand at the Phoenix from November 26 to 28 was just expanded to four with the addition of a show on the 29th, on sale tomorrow. Miracle Fortress is slated to open on the show on the 27th and I Heart Music has got their recent Halifax Pop Explosion performance MP3-ified for your enjoyment, via the CBC Radio 3 recording.
The Good brothers talk to Harp about the process of making The Sadies’ latest album New Seasons. They also talk to Vue Weekly, The Tandem and The San Francisco Bay Guardian about the record. They’ve got a mini Toronto club crawl scheduled for the first weekend of November, playing Lee’s Palace on the 2nd and the Horseshoe on the 3rd.