Since 2000, the New Pornographers have been making consistently enthralling rock music, following the mold of groups like Cheap Trick, the Kinks, and R.E.M. Their unique brand of power-pop has evolved over the course of eight albums, and they show no signs of slowing down. They played to a packed house at the Royale on Monday night, the crowd eager to hear its favorite band tear down the house. The rockers played energized songs from their new album and transcendent hits from their earlier catalog, which made for a uniting, timeless listening experience.
After Lady Lamb opened with an electrifying indie-pop set, the New Pornographers materialized onstage. The 8-piece group, led by frontman A. C. Newman and veteran vocalist Neko Case consists of two guitarists, two keyboardists, a bassist, a drummer, a tambourine, and an electric violinist. The band plays and acts like a big family, sharing the spotlight eagerly amongst themselves.
One of the joys of seeing a veteran-act like the New Pornographers is hearing them absolutely crush their hits. Each song hit the audience like a wall of sound, with tight guitar chords chiming above five-voice harmonies. The song, “Use It,” off of their album Twin Cinema, had a bouncy keyboard line and off-beat vocals that roused the audience to shout along to the chorus. By the time the band reached the bridge, singing, “You had to send a wrecking crew after me/I can't walk right,” they had reminded the crowd why they’ve ruled the indie rock genre for nearly two decades.
The band’s hooks are their greatest asset. Even after eight albums, they still manage to write catchy choruses for songs like “Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile” and “You Need a New Backseat Driver.” On “The Surprise Knock,” Newman sang the verses alone, but he was joined by Case, Simi Stone, and Kathryn Calder on the line, “Didn’t need a war, but we got one now.” When all these voices sang together, it felt as if an extraterrestrial ship was beaming harmonies down from outer space.
Simi Stone, the band’s electric violinist and backup vocalist was a welcome recent addition to their full roster. Throughout the show, she played so furiously that she often had to stop to repair her bow, which kept fraying. Other bands looking to add a member should take the New Pornographers’ cue and consider recruiting a violinist like Stone.
Meanwhile, seeing Neko Case perform was by herself almost worth the entire price of admission. A successful solo artist in her own right, Case’s many years of performing experience were evident in her unwavering confidence. She never hesitated to reach for high notes, and her charisma was on full display as she swaggered through lines like, “What’ll be revealed today/When we peer into the great unknown?”
As the end of the show approached, Case joked that she was going to “skip the fluff” and play the outro of “The Bleeding Heart Show.” Reminiscent of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” this song is a fan favorite with an outro that repeats and builds on itself with choir-like harmonies and fat drum fills. This song seemed to be the climax of the concert, as the audience’s volume was thunderous as they sang along.
Coming out for an encore, the band closed the night with “Letter From an Occupant,” a pure, power-pop track from their first album, Mass Romantic. Shouting the chorus at the top of their ranges, the band seemed to be defiantly asserting their place in the music industry.
As hip-hop takes up a bigger and bigger place in the pop culture, guitar bands like The New Pornographers can seem out of place. However, anybody who sees them live would have to disagree. Their discography spans two decades, and they have tackled styles ranging between indie rock, synth-heavy new wave, and bass-led krautrock. Underneath it all are terrific hooks and a daring sense of optimism. If we follow the lead of one man in the audience, who literally danced the entire night with his head down and limbs flailing in every direction, we can appreciate how music is truly a refuge from the drudgeries of daily life.