Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Punk Meets the (New) Pornographer

Playing right now: Prism Quartet - Heritage/Evolution Volume 1 (Innova)
Note: Since this was posted originally, it's been edited to include the set list

Okay, so I suppose I was wrong. A few weeks ago I stated that everything I've done with the Love Letters culminated on the night of our record release show on January 31. But really, I felt like the moment of truth came this past Friday when the New Pornographers played at Mr. Small's Theatre. 

I felt that way largely because throughout the time that we were making the record, and prior, I never met John Collins in person. There were phone calls, emails, even an interview (where the whole scheme for the record germinated in my head). But that night we were going to meet face to face.

Yes, he's just a guy. A guy who plays bass (and a million other instruments too, if you check his credits on several NPs albums) and just happens to have a recording studio and a good ear. So I shouldn't act all star-struck. But throughout all the time that I dealt with him, I was pretty tenacious, not wanting to let this opportunity slip through. With that in mind, who knew what he'd have to say. Maybe he'd tell me how much of a pest I was. Maybe he was doing this out of obligation. 

Turns out it was neither. After staring at another guy, wondering if it was John (it wasn't), a few minutes later, a soft-spoken guy slid up and casually said, "Hey." And he was soft-spoken to the point that my damaged ears sometimes had trouble hearing what he was saying. Erin (Love Letters drummer) and I chatted with him for a few minutes, gave him a record and gave him the band update. He was interested in all of it. 

Jaill was the opening act, and they were playing while we talked. Their set was pretty good: Guitar-driven pop with keyboards and a singer that sounded a little like Arcade Fire's Win Butler or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's Alec Ounsworth, albeit not quite as whiny, just in terms of register. I later picked up their album There is No Sky (Oh My My) which is even better than their set indicated.

While Jaill was playing, Erin and I made our way back to the bar, where the sound was really good and visibility was good enough. So we decided to stay put instead of eventually going to the front of the room. Plus there was something to lean on, rather than having to stand in a sea of people. (The show was sold-out.) If I felt like having a drink, I didn't have to go anywhere either. 

They hit the stage with "Brill Bruisers" and the energy didn't waver the whole time. It's been almost six years since I've seen the band live, so naturally I built up the excitement in my head about what it should be. And I wasn't disappointed.

Neko Case wasn't with the band. (Don't dwell on this, people. Yes, she's great but it might hurt Carl's feelings.) But Dan Bejar was - something that's NEVER happened when they've come to Pittsburgh before. We finally got to hear "Jackie's Dressed in Cobras," "Testament to Youth in Verse" and several others. He didn't play the whole set, coming and going, strapping an acoustic guitar on and off. 

The set dipped as far back as album #1, with title track "Mass Romantic" inspiring some frenzied pogoing and yelling from me. The Brill Bruisers songs all sounded really strong too, recreating the layers of the album (it helps having two keyboard players) with lots of guitars on top. In addition to Carl Newman's steady rhythm work, and Bejar's coming and going, mainstay Todd Fancey was there in the corner of stage right. At least I think it was him, from where I was standing. 

Erin wondered if they'd play "The Bleeding Heart" show, to which I replied, "They have to." It reminds me of an interview with one of the original Temptations who said they once tried to do a show without singing "My Girl" and took some serious heat for it afterwards. That song became the final one of the evening during the encore. ("Bleeding Heart" not "My Girl.") I was a little surprised they didn't do ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down" as they have in the past. But it's a good idea to keep us guessing. 

I told John earlier that I would like to say hi to Kathryn Calder, their one keyboardist and vocalist. When she put out her second album, I did a so-so email interview with her that became a small feature in Blurt. But I really love her albums, including a new self-titled one that's coming out in a couple months. (I heard an advance of it this week.) He texted me before their set and said to hang around after and he'd introduce us.

After they were done, John came out and took me backstage where Kathryn was waiting. Much like John, she too was totally laidback and friendly. We talked about loosing parents and the effect it can have on writing and recording. I'm hoping to do a real interview with her for the album in a few months. The only downside is that she said her solo tour probably won't come to Pittsburgh because it's too expensive. I didn't ask if that meant the distance or our city's entertainment tax or what. I just let it slide, even though it burst my bubble a little. 

Then I went home. No pictures. It never entered my mind to get some while we were talking. Guess you'll have to just take my word for it. 

Here's the setlist:
Brill Bruisers
Myriad Harbor
Slow Descent into Alcoholism
War on the East Coast
Dancehall Domine
Use It
Jackie Dressed in Cobras
Another Drug Deal of the Heart
The Laws Have Changed
You Tell Me Where
All the Old Show Stoppers
Adventures in Solitude
Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk
Champions of Red Wine
Born with a Sound
Mass Romantic

[something by Dan Bejar; can't read my writing]
Sing Me Spanish Techno
The Bleeding Heart Show

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