New Pornographers @ The Warfield, SF 9/17/2007
I don’t like going to concerts alone, because I feel like a loser and everyone is staring at me and I have no friends. On the other hand, I don’t like going to shows with someone who doesn’t really like the band, because the whole time I’m thinking, “This person isn’t having a good time. They don’t like the music. They don’t want to be here.” With these dueling scenarios in my head, four months ago I bought two tickets to see New Pornographers at The Warfield—with the hope that I’d find someone equally as excited as I was to see them live.
Of course that didn’t happen. Two weeks ago my only friend in the city agreed to go with me. She wasn’t a fan, but liked the music well enough, and is the type of person who just appreciates live music, so at least I wasn’t worried about her not having fun. Then she remembered that she has a class on Monday nights so she couldn’t go.
I ended up going with a different friend – a friend of a friend, really – who lives down the peninsula. She’s the type of person who, when asked “What type of music do you like?”, says “Everything.” I consider that a bad sign, as far as musical tastes go.
She’s a fun girl, though; I like hanging out with her. We had some enjoyable pre-show and between-set conversation despite the idiot kids who didn’t understand it wasn’t a Taking Back Sunday concert and insisted on weaseling into any inch of open space around us (I don’t know if Taking Back Sunday is a good current example of a stupid band that the kids like). She seemed to be having a good enough time.
The first band, Fancey, is mediocre. The frontman is Todd Fancey, guitarist for the New Pornographers. Good on him for pulling double duty, but I’m not too impressed.
Next is Lavender Diamond, and I’m pretty sure the singer is high. Which always makes for witty banter. No, it doesn’t. Especially not at a venue as large as the Warfield. She talks too much, and too incoherently, between songs that the audience gets lost and talks rudely throughout most of the set. And that’s a shame because they’re really good.
But at 10 o’clock, any discomfort or unease dissolves. Even my ulcer, if I have one (which I don’t) heals. “NEWPORNOGRAPHERS” in white hot lightbulbs blazes from above the stage, and the recorded plucking of “Classical Gas” pours over the speakers before all 8 bandmembers take the stage.
These guys are such pro’s. They’re enthusiastic, the energy is amazing, with none of the bumbling that characterized the previous band.
I’m stoked that the full lineup is there, as Dan Bejar (vocals/guitar/stuff) tends to not tour with them. I suspect he’s got some kind of social phobia or something, because when they aren’t performing one of his songs, he leaves the stage. But when he’s on, he’s on. And his are some of the greatest, most haunting, songs. “The Spirit of Giving In” mesmerizes: “And the wolves that you run with / are wolves, don’t forget. / They exist to give you something to regret / I’ll beat them to it.”
Carl Newman (vocals/guitar), who I just assumed would be an excellent showman, doesn’t disappoint. He exudes a leadership over the band without overshadowing anyone. And he’s funny.
San Francisco, he says, is the best city to play. We’ve “always had their backs. Way before like Louisville or Cleveland or some other bullshit city like that…”
“Doesn’t Cleveland have the hall of fame?” Kathryn (keyboard/vocals) asks. “The rock and roll hall of fame?”
“Yeah,” Carl says. “Who snubbed us for another year. Fucking Cleveland. It’s just a popularity contest. The entire city of Cleveland… That’s some good banter.”
And Kathryn… Kathryn Calder is awesome. If Neko Case (vocals) is Hera or Aphrodite or someone, then Kathryn is Helen of Troy – not quite divine, but pretty near the pinnacle of humanity. Which is even better, because it’s more attainable. She’s adorable in a black and white 1920’s flapper-looking cap and Asics sneakers. I’m a sucker for fashionably unique women. She sometimes looks a little uncertain up there, but holds her own. I imagine I have a much better chance of marrying her than I do Neko, so I’m leaning that direction. (I recommend her other band, Immaculate Machine).
The drummer, Kurt Dahle, kicks lots of ass, too. He switches off using that underhanded grip, which is apparently really hard to do, but all the coolest jazz drummers do it (like Buddy Rich). The beats are way more intense played live.
And finally, Neko. Wow. Her voice is hypnotic. It’s so powerful and piercing. It’s a wonder. “Challengers” is soul-melting, but is topped by the last song before the encore, “The Bleeding Heart Show”.
This song gets a paragraph all to itself. It’s built to be experienced live. It’s chilling. Transcendent. Inspiring. Every cliche you can think of. It rises like a phoenix. Like a University of Phoenix. To listen to Neko’s final “We have arrived”s over the repeated “Hey la”s… It makes me consider the possiblity that life isn’t meaningless. Indescribable.
The three-song encore ends with another showstopper, where everything began, the song that created the New Pornographers, “Letter from an Occupant”. It provides a soaring and satisfying finality, then it’s over.
The chill and stench of urine assault me on the sidewalk outside – an hour and a half of rapture, and it’s back to reality.
UPDATE: My friend Dave over at Waves and Wires (just kidding, I don’t know who he is) has a write-up of the show, complete setlist, and the whole show downloadable in mp3 format. Check it out.