by The Spin
We’ll understand if you don’t believe us when we say it, but we had every intention of catching openers The Dutchess & The Duke. Certainly, their presence on a New Pornographers/Dodos tour didn’t make a whole lot of sense — they’d be more at home opening for a solo Neko Case show — but, in the interest of a diverse indie palate, we were looking forward to seeing them. Barring a Next Big Nashville performance where The Billy Goats killed it in front of us and roughly 12 of their friends at the ungodly hour of 8 p.m., a show at Cannery starting earlier than 9:30 is unheard of. We figured at 9 p.m., we’d be in with plenty of time to spare. Not so much. We found out later that The Dutchess & The Duke started around 8:15, so we missed the whole damn set. Sorry, bros! Next time?
We were instead greeted by the familiar thump of The Dodos’ dueling percussionists, which we fondly recalled from Thursday afternoon at Bonnaroo. The only difference here was air conditioning and Cannery’s oft-lamented acoustics. One thing we didn’t notice last time was Logan Kroeber’s seriously legit vibraphone playing. Back when we were little Spinners, our school band weapon of choice was the xylophone and that shit was hard. We’ve got a fine appreciation for a band that can fit that sound in without sounding like Vampire Weekend or John Phillip Sousa.
By the time The Dodos ended their set with the Miller-Chill-approved “Fools,” we started to notice how thin the crowd was. The venue was perhaps half-full — what the hell, Nashville? The first time in a long time that The New Pornographers toured as something more than “A.C. Newman and some talented musicians that aren’t Neko Case and Dan Bejar,” and the place isn’t packed? We don’t get it. Neko Case shouldered The Ryman by herself, and surely A.C. Newman and Destroyer have enough indie buzz between them to drag the stragglers in. What’s a band got to do to get a better crowd? Get into a kung-fu deathmatch with Broken Social Scene?
On the other hand, The New Pornographers is not the same band they were when Mass Romantic dropped in 2000. The members aren’t the same people. Fer chrissakes, Neko Case went from power-pop starlet to whiling away her free moments as an enchanted wood nymph. Or at least we’re pretty sure that’s what she is, based on the 30 minutes of forest sounds on Middle Cyclone and a copy of The Lorax. The New Pornographers used to be an excuse to listen to jangly pop music and get down Canadian style. That isn’t quite the case anymore, so to speak, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still play those power-pop songs alongside their more mature new material.
The early part of the show was a technical trench war, with the band fighting for inches against malfunctioning instruments, monitor feedback and the sound guy. Apparently frustrated by technological bullshit, Neko Case threw up her hands and took off in the middle of “Up in the Dark,” two songs into their set. The rest of the crew tried to roll with it, but even an impromptu cover of Lita Ford’s glam-metal hit “Kiss Me Deadly” couldn’t prevent the show from grinding to a halt while the tech people fumbled with the levels and faders or whatever it is they do.
As expected, the set was heavy on Together and light on Challengers. In total, the band played what one of our compadres called “the longest set ever”: a 23-song marathon, including a particularly bitchin’ cover of “Eye of the Tiger” with drummer Kurt Dahle on vocals. Of course the drummer knew all the lyrics to the best song featured in a Hulk Hogan movie (Sorry, “Foaming at the Mouth” by Rigor Mortis from Mr. Nanny).
What we hadn’t expected was the amount of deep cuts in the set, especially the six songs off Twin Cinema. The band stumbled on “The Jessica Numbers,” forcing Newman, Case and the rest into an onstage huddle while the crowd patiently contemplated the $25 they had spent on tickets. When the band was playing they were undeniable, but moments like these made the show feel too much like amateur hour. Still though, those snafus were easy to forget once the band got it together. Case’s voice has taken a turn towards the earthy, and maybe the band isn’t as gleeful as they were 10 years ago, but it’s not like they’ve forgotten how to put on a good show with the breadth of material available to them. They just forget the words sometimes.