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

Soundscapes, and Beat Route have interviews with The Besnard Lakes, whose debut Volume 1 was re-released in the US recently (yesterday?). The MP3 is not from that album. The video is.

MP3: The Besnard Lakes – “For Agent 13”
Video: The Besnard Lakes – “The Spy Turned Musician” (MySpace)

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.

USA Today introduces its readers to Feist.

Rolf Klausener recounts the story of The Acorn to Beat Route. They’ll be at the Horseshoe on November 24.

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.

Filter gets to know Tokyo Police Club.

By : Frank Yang at 8:32 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. information leafblower says:

    I don’t know where he’s "from," but Benjy lives in D.C., bro. He bartends at Saint Ex. Saw him two weeks ago.

  2. toby says:

    Was Emma Pollock playing solo, or did she have a band with her? I couldn’t tell from your photos.

  3. Frank says:

    she had a band – the last few shots before the porno ones were her bandmates (Kathryn Calder came out to play accordian on "The Optimist"). They weren’t standing close enough together for any kind of group shot.

  4. Roland says:

    Thanks for the linkage, as usual. Stars were great last night, and I can’t wait for the New Pornographers and Emma (and Immaculate Machine) on Thursday.

  5. claire says:

    My initial response to the Emma Pollock album was the same as yours – good, but lacking that Delgados je ne sais quoi. Then suddenly, I became addicted to half the songs on it. I’d call it a "grower." To be honest, when she/they came through Chicago last week, I probably enjoyed her set as much or more than the main event – but then I am a Delgados fangirl por vida. I agree with you that the NPs seem a little more removed from their audience this time out, and the shows are less memorable as a result. Neko Case was still characteristically hilarious at our show, though, particularly with respect to some technical difficulties the band was having.

    Final comment – no "Xanadu" that I can recall, but in Chicago the NPs arrived onstage to the sound of the theme from the "A-Team." Regardless of what did or did not happen during the rest of the show, that was killer.

    Did the NPs come out

  6. claire says:

    And pardon that sentence fragment/typo.

  7. bruce says:

    Completely agree with Frank’s comments on the NPs stunning vocal work, but it must be mentioned that their unsung hero is Kurt Dahle — he does a great job on harmonies (while drumming!) and his efforts always seem overlooked. (Nice to see him get some credit for his outstanding work with Ms. Pollock!)

    By the way, here in Toronto, they came onstage to the strains of "Classical Gas" (60s instrumental hit).

  8. Jen says:

    I was feeling the same lack of interest–perhaps, you could call it–from the porno’s that you mentioned. That one moment of silence, seemed ever long due to not one peep from the band.
    Although, it was hilarious when Carl asked the audience to shut up and stop yelling out requests at the same time. Wanted Neko to be her usual witty self, but i guess all things considered, touring is quite exhausting night after night.
    I honestly think Emma’s set was the most impressive.

    Did anyone get what Neko said near the end? Something about waiting for someone to get the balls to do something. At least, that’s what i heard.

  9. claire says:

    bruce – agreed. i think i too am guilty of overlooking kurt d’s contributions. i distinctly recall him taking over bejar vocal duties on a few songs a couple tours ago, and doing a great job with it. plus, he’s just the backbone of the band – even an otherwise great band with a subpar drummer will sound sloppy.