Published Aug 31, 2014Given the choice, I'd much rather see a band at the start of a touring cycle than the end: what you lose in precision you gain in spontaneity, in the present thrill of watching members still working through new material, teasing at its edges, figuring out what works. It's live music as creation, not just performance.
Saturday night's New Pornographers show on the Halifax Waterfront was only their fourth this year, and only the second since releasing new album Brill Bruisers this past Tuesday. There were a couple of false starts, some awkward smirks shared between band members, and lots of between-song "working things out" chatter as songs like "Backstairs" were given their first live airings. The show suffered little — the band's wall of sound paid no mind, mostly — and, if anything, ended up quite a bit more fun for it.
Admittedly, it's easy to have fun at the beach — even a fake one. The concert was part of SandJam, an annual beach volleyball event in Halifax that this year is hosting the Canadian team championships. The stage was directly in front of the makeshift beach volleyball court (built on what is usually a parking lot), with concertgoers standing right in the sand during the show. Though sparse for openers Neon Dreams and the Town Heroes, the crowd gained heft through the evening, huddling together to keep warm from the cool Atlantic breeze as the Pornographers kicked off the show with a blistering take on Brill Bruisers' title track.
Unlike when the band last played Halifax four years ago, Neko Case was not in tow — but this time Dan Bejar was, and a full third of the set list consisted of his wonderfully idiosyncratic contributions to the band's catalog. "War on the East Coast" and "Testament to Youth in Verse" were highlights, as was a chaotically noisy attempt at new song "Spidyr." (Admittedly, I have a soft spot for not-very-good harmonica solos.)
As for the rest of the set, there was not a dud in sight as the band mixed Bruisers material with a smattering of old showstoppers. Six albums in, the band's catalog is overflowing with pop gold, so much so the absence of Case belters like "Crash Years" and "Letter from an Occupant" in the set was only noticeable if you stopped to think about it, and mattered little. Whether it was a forceful take on "The Laws Have Changed," or closing out the main set with a sing-along-worthy "The Bleeding Heart Show," the Pornographers' made an authoritative case for their being among our generation's greatest pop architects.