Published Mar 16, 2009The danger of a supergroup day job is that all extracurricular endeavours are merely groups. Still, for his latest jaunt, New Pornographers leader A.C. (sometimes Carl) Newman stacked his backing band. A multi-faceted septet, including special guest star, Nicole Atkins, on back-up vocals, the combo played an intricate, if occasionally linear set only slightly hampered by a front-row peanut gallery.
Newman's solo canon may lack some of the Pornographers' range (and worthy foils, like Dan Bejar and Neko Case), though it's no less grand or infectious. Newman et al kicked off the night with a weighty version of new cut, "There are Maybe Ten or Twelve." A mission statement, it created a tightly wound confluence of sounds, like a seesawing violin, mallet-heavy percussion and a joyous keyboard. Riding on the crest of the noise was Newman's famously clear voice.
Similarly, for "Prophets," keyboard and violin entwined as flugelhorn soared. "Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer" saw rattlesnake percussion and a steadying melodica bound together over insistent keyboard repetition. It again showed off the crew's greatest strengths: intricate musical interplay, a wall of sound and Newman himself.
Set highlight, "Drink to Me, Babe, Then," let Newman stretch his voice, going aloft before four-part whistling brought him back down. "The Heartbreak Rides" began with softly-stroked power chords, ballooning with a vaguely Celtic violin and a complimentary trumpet.
With a surfeit of instrumentation, from recorders and melodicas to brass, the sound was opaque. Though, despite myriad approaches, a handful of mid-set tracks (i.e. "The Palace at 4am" and "Secretarial") flowed too closely together. Regardless, the always affable Newman punctuated slowdowns with wry humour, waxing on Sloan's ancient grudge against him and Chris Murphy's mid- to late '90s lothario status.