THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS + Destroyer @ Cabaret La Tulipe

By Alex Huynh - Losing My Edge - 10/10/2005

Given that Carl Newman, Neko Case and Dan Bejar all have successful main projects, the New Pornographers show at La Tulipe marked a rare opportunity to see this indie supergroup perform, even if all three have played in front of Montreal crowds during the past two years. Perhaps the timing is perfect, because at their inception, they sounded exactly like a supergroup: flashes of brilliance, distinctive personalities shining through the music and frankly, a bit chaotic. Now with their last record Twin Cinema, the New Pornographers have delivered the album of their career partly because they finally sound like a band.

They started off with the title track from Twin Cinema, and first impressions were that this was a tight band, capable of backing up their recorded output in a live setting -- yeah, great fuckin' observation, I know. It was during the song that followed it ("Use It") that it struck me how much of an anachronism the New Pornographers are. They seem to exist just outside the current pop context and they're not closely associated to any scene in particular (besides the Great Fuckin' Pop scene). The New Pornographers are enjoying a career that will take generations to fully appreciate. Already, they have under their belt two of the most perfect pop songs of this young century ("Letter From An Occupant", "The Laws Have Changed") and are coming off their most accomplished album. As they stomp through "Mass Romantic", the first Neko Case-led song of the set and the title track of their debut, the New Pornographers are clearly on top of their game. On "These Are The Fables", they manage to reach a higher level. In fact, this was the point where this evening turned magical. The audience was still under the spell of Neko belting out the lines "Lay down in glory, you're not alone" twice at the end of the song, when the opening notes of Twin Cinema's centerpiece "The Bleeding Heart Show" unveiled themselves. The excitement was palpable and everyone knew what was coming: the finest two-minutes-and-a-half you will hear this year. The last half of that song, with the hey la hey la and Neko's totally devastating delivery of "We have arrived/Too late to play/The bleeding heart show", was a true moment of heartbreaking joy.

Dan Bejar dropped in like the wacky neighbor in the American sitcom for two songs during the set ("Jackie, Dressed In Cobras", "Streets Of Fire") and once during each encore -- always with a drink and a frown. His presence, lacking and lethargic during his opening set as Destroyer, was nicely and strangely offset here by his chipper bandmates. Comparatively, Destroyer was rather boring despite bringing their A material (including the surprising set opener "No Cease Fires!"). After a string of heralded live shows with Frog Eyes as his backing band, this was a disappointment. His contribution, however, to "Streets Of Fire" and "Testament To Youth In Verse" during the final encore -- with great harmonizing on the no no no no no's -- made up for his Destroyer set. On the other hand, it was easy to overlook the mastermind behind this whole operation, Carl Newman. While unflashy, he does have a sort of weird shy charisma that complements well with the personalities of his fellow Pornographers. It seems like it's his earnestness that keeps the quirky Bejar or the magnetic Case from being bigger than the band. Instead, they were the ultimate pop machine.

The rest of the show just kept reinforcing the notion of them being underappreciated geniuses, from the aforementioned "The Laws Have Changed" to "Fake Headlines" to "The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism" and "Sing Me Spanish Techno" closing the set. Song after song, they just kept reminding us how deceptively deep their catalogue is. Finally, they sent the crowd home with their first salvo back in 2000, the transcendental "Letter From An Occupant" (listen to it again). As most of the early 21st century bands will start putting out flimsier and flimsier releases in their three-album careers -- perhaps culmulating to a universal realization that the world does not need a third Interpol album or a Metric ripoff band -- we will be glad to have the New Pornographers' body of work to show our kids.

[Tune in to Losing My Edge Sundays 2pm-4pm and Tuesdays 8pm-10pm]