July 5th, 2007 11:19am
Do You Think The Girls Here Ever Wonder How They Got So Pretty?
The New Pornographers @ Battery Park, 7/4/07
All The Things That Go To Make Heaven And Earth / Use It / The Laws Have Changed / All The Old Showstoppers / Jackie Dressed In Cobras / Challengers / The Spirit Of Giving / Mass Romantic / From Blown Speakers / My Rights Versus Yours / The Jessica Numbers / Go Places / Mutiny, I Promise You / Twin Cinema / Sing Me Spanish Techno / The Bleeding Heart Show // These Are The Fables / Testament To Youth In Verse / The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism
Quick show review: The weather was bad but not horrible (dark, intermittent rain); the audience seemed slightly removed and disengaged (and I count myself in with that); it barely felt like the 4th of July. Neko Case was with the band, and so were some other people playing strings and horns, and both of those things made the show a bit better, especially on “Go Places,” which very beautiful and moving. Also, Carl Newman has a beard now.
The New Pornographers “Myriad Harbour” – Given that Dan Bejar was not present, I was actually a bit relieved that the band opted not to perform “Myriad Harbour,” my favorite song from Challengers. More than any other song Bejar has written for the New Pornographers, “Myriad Harbour” greatly depends upon his charisma and persona. Kurt Dahle and Carl Newman can approximate his peculiar affectations on the other songs, but this one seems way too particular to his character, to the point that it basically just sounds like a slightly more magnificent version of Destroyer.
“Myriad Harbour” stands in stark contrast with the rest of Challengers — whereas Newman pushes towards lushness and grandiosity with your standard strings, horns, and assorted “respectable” instrumentation, this song evokes widescreen panoramic beauty without much fuss. I’m not sure if “understated” is exactly the right adjective given its level of production value, but it feels very airy and effortless when heard in the same sitting as Newman’s comparatively overwrought numbers, especially when you focus on the song’s elegant lead guitar refrain. All through Challengers, Newman seems like a guy desperately trying to articulate an overwhelming feeling that makes him feel a bit self-conscious, and Bejar just slides along, casually tossing off pithy one-liners, thoughtful asides, and quick non-sequitors that somehow carry the weight of an entire album’s worth of tunes. (“All I ever wanted help with was YOU.” For me, right now, that line is like getting shot in the heart with an arrow of EMOTIONAL TRUTH.)
In the song, Dan Bejar plays himself as a hipster flaneur visiting Manhattan and casting about in search of entertainment, culture, and beauty. It’s a song about observation, really — look at the sunset, the pretty girls, PS1, the local art kids, the “Myriad Harbour.” There’s the pleasure of appreciating these moments, these places, people, and things, but there’s also a distinct sense of emotional detachment. He’s just passing through, it’s all a distraction from someone he can’t get out of his head.
PS: I’ll talk about Carl’s songs on the album another time, okay? I have a lot to say about them, but I’m still figuring it all out. I was very disappointed at first, but now I’m not. I like Challengers a lot, but it’s a tricky thing because on one hand, the new direction seems neurotic, like he has to prove that he and the band can do something other than their specialty, and on the other, the more “classic” style songs on the record are the least inspired and emotionally involving. (Click here to buy it via Matador’s Buy Early Get Now site.)
Elsewhere: My new Hit Refresh column is up on the ASAP site with mp3s from Matthew Dear, Misha, and Chromeo.