A.C. Newman had either fallen asleep on the bus or he was joking when he said mid-set, "
We're pretty close to Pittsburgh, right? So there's probably some crossover between Pittsburgh people and Millvale people?"
The happy, sold-out crowd packed into Mr. Smalls just kind of looked back at him puzzled at that one. Other than that, the frontman for The New Pornographers was in complete control Friday night of one of power-pop's finest bands.
The veteran Canadian group is out on a short winter run, minus its part-time indie siren Neko Case. It's always better with Neko, but, amazingly enough, that still leaves New Porn with three viable leads in Newman, Kathryn Calder and Dan Bejar (who also fronts Destroyer), and with Calder's pretty soprano the harmonies aren't far off from the records. (The lack of Neko, however, does cut into the visual appeal of the band, as she has that flaming red hair and rock-star swagger.)
Although Pornographers fans, like most audiences, love the older stuff, this was a good tour for new material. The songs from last year's excellent "Brill Bruisers" -- "Backstairs," the driving "You Tell Me Where" and Bejar-sung standout "Born With a Sound" -- pack even more of a punch, bolstered with ricocheting space-rock synths.
Calder, who is Newman's niece, filled in beautifullyfor Neko on
"Champions of Red Wine" and rocked out with Newman on the album's art-funk workout "Dancehall Domine."
Newman, with own impressive range and backed with an an air-tight band, excelled at the driving rockers like the "Brill Bruisers" title track (oddly Shins sounding) and
"The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism," and the furry Bejar offered a quirky contrast with his gruff vocals on "War On the East Coast" and "
Myriad Harbour," a favorite from "Challengers."
Banging through a 24-song set, with a hardly a dud, suggests these Pornographers would have fit in well at the Brill Building.
New Pornographers Set List
Brill BruisersMyriad Harbour
The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism
War On the East Coast
Jackie, Dressed in Cobras
Another Drug Deal of the Heart
The Laws Have Changed
You Tell Me Where
Testament to Youth in Verse
All the Old Showstoppers
Adventures in Solitude
Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk
Silver Jenny Dollar
Champions of Red Wine
Born With a Sound
Ballad of a Comeback Kid
Sing Me Spanish Techno
The Bleeding Heart Show