by Noah Caesar-Kim
The New Pornographers, hardly the most recognizable name in indie rock, proved in a thrilling yet casual fashion that they should be in that conversation. They are a band whose constant stream of musical output sustains unwavering enthusiasm amongst its loyal fans. They bypassed the hex of transitory stardom. As a result, the crowd of fans that converged on a cold Monday night consisted of those who had entered at every point in the band’s discography, and in acknowledgement of this diverse demographic, the band deployed an even distribution of songs that painted the complete narrative of a history still in the making.
From the start, the audience was introduced to the unique vocal chemistry of A.C. Newman and Neko Case. In “Dancehall Domine,” the band’s opening song, they showcased a loose call and response structure: Newman and Case took turns articulating the melody of the verses, while Case occupied the lead vocal role in the chorus. It’s a familiar dynamic to which fans are well accustomed, but watching it in person was a special experience. For many fans, it was a rare insight into the playful joy of performing live.
The first major highlight of the night was the band’s one-two-punch of “Use It” and “Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile.” Bridging the gap between their 2005 instant classic Twin Cinema and their September release In the Morse Code of Brake Lights, the combination adhered two ends of their musical spectrum into a triumphant display of the band’s gradual evolution. These songs seemed to strike a chord with every member of the audience, uniting a wide age range and setting the tone for an incredible night.
“Sing Me Spanish Techno” manifested another emotional peak, inarguably among the songs that many people had commuted there to hear. Another Twin Cinema classic, and one of my personal favorites, the song laments of escapism from the drudge of everyday life. The tone is spiritually elevating, and the verses crescendo into a fast-paced cinematic ending whose elation permeated the entire venue. “The Bleeding Heart Show” and “Moves” followed similar suit to round off the band’s main set, and accompanied by a diverse ensemble of instruments, including Todd Fancey on guitar, Kurt Dahle on drums, and Simi Sernaker on violin, Newman and Case did the emotions of their heavier songs justice.
The group absconded from the stage, provoking cries of energetic fans. The cries persisted for several minutes, and after collectively destroying our vocal cords, The New Pornographers reemerged for a final three song encore. Once again, the songs were representative of their history. They began with “High Ticket Attractions,” one of their most danceable tunes and another one of their most popular songs. “Brill Bruisers” sustained that energy, before they concluded with “Letter from an Occupant,” my personal favorite New Pornos song. People of all ages were dancing, despite it having been a long concert, and not one person was disgruntled about having not heard enough of their “old stuff.”
A large printout of their latest album, In the Morse Code of Break Lights, was hung up in the background, while music stands and loose guitars floated around the stage. The optics were indeed nothing extravagant, yet they perfectly encapsulated the soft-spoken energy and spirit of the band. I spent my time at the concert in the front row alongside an overjoyed fan who’d taken a train from Tampa Bay to Boston for the Monday night show. He didn’t travel the vertical length of the country to be a voice among thousands in a carefully orchestrated arena rock set. Instead, he was one person among a couple hundred, and he was the loudest one not plugged into a microphone. His presence was a testament to the band’s permanence, and the atmosphere that brought the concert together. The New Pornographers bantered onstage the whole night, often as if we weren’t even there. When A.C. Newman broke a guitar string on the band’s final song, the entire crowd laughed with him. It may not have been groomed, polished, or choreographed with the precision of a large show, but we all saw what we’d gone there to see.