(Above: A.C. Newman. Photo by Andy Argyrakis.)
Vancouver supergroup the New Pornographers returned to Chicago with a sold out show at Metro,
selling out weeks in advance (unlike its last visit two years ago, which did not), proving the band’s sugared indie pop is a quickly spreading flavor. Its addictive properties are easy to understand; songs center around sturdy guitar melodies while keyboards swirl, tambourines shimmy and the rhythms keeps listeners toe-tapping and head-bobbing. Add the sun-kissed harmonies of bandleader A.C. “Carl” Newman, alt.country swooner Neko Case, and drummer Kurt Dahle, and the catchiness of the band’s songs is undeniable.
The octet—rounded out by co-founder Dan Bejar, keyboardist Kathryn Calder, bassist John Collins, guitarist Todd Fancey and synth/melodica/harp player Blaine Thurier—performed a 90-minute set comprising songs from all three of its albums. Opening with “Twin Cinema,” titled after its latest effort, the band set the sunshine tone that permeated the show. Its most recent material shone brightly with the Newman-led “Use It” and the romped-up “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” bursting with sing-along harmonies and infectious melodies. “The Bleeding Heart Show” grew from midtempo storytelling into a celebratory finale.
With her passionate siren calls, Case passionately colored Newman’s softer vocals. This is not to say his singing lacks power; Newman hits falsettos with ease and his vocals fit the music perfectly. It’s just that Case’s leads—“These Are The Fables,” “The Laws Have Changed” and “All For Swinging You Around,” and the show-closing “Letter From An Occupant”—pack such a lasting punch. Bejar, whose group Destroyer opened the show, also sang a handful of songs. His gritty vocals added another dimension to the potent vocal potion, bringing extra swagger to songs like “Testament To Youth In Verse” and the jaunty, urgent “Jackie, Dressed In Cobras.”
Although vibrant, upbeat emotions pervaded, the band evoked a more meditative approach on “Streets Of Fire,” where the acoustic- and melodica-infused beginning tumbled into swelling riffs and fired-up beats. Chimey vocals peppered the dramatic “Falling Through Your Clothes” and the stomping “Slow Descent Into Alcoholism,” its chugging bass line and percussion crescendos indicating these indie popsters can rock out with the best.
The audience ‘s cheers brought the New Pornographers out for two encores; one focusing on Electric Version, the other on Mass Romantic. Though almost any of the show-stopping Twin Cinema songs could’ve served during the encore, the band had already pulled the gems out earlier in the set. With the one-two-three punch of “The Body Says No,” “Jackie” and the joyous “Letters From An Occupant” the group exited; leaving fans’ indie-pop jones fully sated.