Gig Review: New Pornographers, Manchester Academy 3, Nov. 20, 2007

Kathryn Calder of The New PornographersTo say I’d been looking forward to the return of the New Pornographers to Manchester was an understatement. The new album, Challengers, is a great romp and the addition of Kathryn Calder as a full time member of the band has added even more spark to the massive harmonies. Even knowing that neither Neko Case or Dan Bejar could be bothered coming over to Europe (even though they’ve played all the American dates), did very little to dampen my excitement.

First, however, we had to endure a band called It Hugs Back. Now, they weren’t the worst opening band I’ve ever seen. They play very American-influenced indie guitar rock and a couple of tracks early on in their set were not bad. The last two songs, which they said were their singles clearly sounded like they’d been written to record label specifications about “how to write a radio-friendly single” and they were pretty mundane. Frankly, however, the name “It Hugs Back” is so bad, and so evocative of whingey emo, that even if they had been the best band I had ever seen in my entire life, I would never buy one of their albums. I’d be too embarassed to have that CD in my collection. Sorry guys, but I have to draw the line somwhere. I mean, I can handle a name like “I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness” mainly because it pretty much describes what they sound like. “…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead” is just clever. “Death Cab For Cutie” evokes smiles. But, “It Hugs Back”? Really? I don’t think so. As I have no idea what “It” is, I certainly don’t want “It” to be tactile. Stand back please. Way back. Further still. Thank you.The New Pornographers Live

Now the New Pornos…the last time I saw them, in the Night & Day touring Twin Cinema, had been a great gig but for one problem – the sound was so poor that we could barely tell what songs they were playing. We couldn’t hear the vocals at all. I assumed it was the venue as occasionally the sound is ropey in there. It wasn’t the venue. While we could distinguish the songs this time as the instruments sounded great, we could still barely hear the vocals. One guy even told the band and they tried to fix it. Sadly, they didn’t quite manage. As so much of their sound is in the complex harmonies, this does detract a bit from the sound. Thankfully, their enthusiasm on stage more than made up for the problems with the sound.

The set was great. Gleeful opener “All the Things That Go to Make Heaven and Earth,” from Challengers moving quickly into “Use It” from Twin Cinema. “Jackie Dressed In Cobras” which appeared about five songs in sounded so different without the distinctive sound of Dan Bejar that I almost didn’t recognise it, but A.C. Newman more than compensated for his absence by making the vocal all his own.

Blaine Thurier of The New Pornographers gives Justhipper some feedbackI was thrilled to hear “The Laws Have Changed” which is the song that got me interested in them in the first place, recent single “My Rights Versus Yours” was an enthusiastic singalong and “Mass Romantic” kept the pace. The crowd were friendly and even the young hecklers stood behind The Ledge were more amusing than anything. With such a full stage I didn’t know where to look. A.C. Newman never stops moving, Kathryn Calder never stops smiling, drummer Kurt Dahle was pulling weird faces and kept sticking his tongue out in between delivering backing vocals, and Blaine Thurier kept making eye contact with much of the front row, smiling, nodding, and, in my case, giving me the finger as I photographed him playing the harmonica.

The energy actually kept building from start to finish right through to main set-closers “Sing Me Spanish Techno” which prompted lots of dancing and “The Bleeding Heart Show” which suffers a bit from the lack of Neko’s booming voice coming in at the end, although maybe this was because we could barely hear Kathryn Calder singing and not so much the actual absence of the queen of alt.country.

The encore of “Letter from an Occupant” and “The Slow Descent into Alcoholism” was the perfect finish to a great set, especially as we made away with a full, sealed bottle of beer, kindly donated to me by Kurt Dahle as he came back onto the stage.

We walked away infinitely satisfied with the performance delivered by a group who are rapidly becoming one of the most-played bands here at Indie Cred HQ. Hopefully they’ll be back again soon.

There’s a link to the full set up at Thunderfrogs.

Or, you could just listen to a couple of tracks:

The New Pornographers – The Bleeding Heart Show

The New Pornographers – Challengers

4 Responses to “Gig Review: New Pornographers, Manchester Academy 3, Nov. 20, 2007”

  • suggestion Box Says:

    Judging from the photos, you were right against the stage, which is too far up to hear the main speakers. They actually only really begin to do their job at about 4 feet off the stage or so. Not saying academy 3 is the greatest venue, but i was there mostly at the bar, and i heard voices fine.
    Sorry you didn’t get the full package.

  • JustHipper Says:

    We don’t normally have a problem from where we were stood. Frankly though that’s poor if not everybody can hear properly. I’m that small that if I were to have stood even 2 feet further back I wouldn’t have been able to see anything on stage. I shouldn’t have to choose between seeing the gig and hearing it.

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