The first concert I ever attended was the Ottawa Bluesfest, only a summer ago, but it feels much, much longer. The exclamation point of the festival was the New Pornographers' jubilant set at the Black Sheep stage, which pushed me from a state of vague affection for the band towards becoming a huge fan. When I saw they would be playing with Emma Pollock and Immaculate Machine, I scrambled to get a ticket. It's rare that I'm familiar with an entire three band lineup, and there's a bit of a different mentality. Instead of reacting to music for the first time, I found myself savoring each song a bit more, and appreciating the differences between the live set and the records.
Two thirds of Immaculate Machine - drummer Luke Kozlowski and guitarist Brooke Gallupe - said that they had drove nonstop for four days to reach us from their native Victoria, Canada. Keyboardist Katherine Calder had it easier, as she's become a full time member of the New Pornographers and was with that band, but she really shined in this other project. Beginning with "Dear Confessor" off of their recent album Fables, the band plowed through a lively set of upbeat indie pop, even the slower numbers gaining momentum and volume in live form. With all three members singing, often at the same time, the band wrung everything they could out of their compact membership. Luke would tear off his shirt, clearly getting a workout from drumming and singing at the same time. Kathryn and Brooke proved equally versatile, switching from English to French lyrics midway through "Broken Ship," and the latter even offered a few lines of closer "Jarhand." Immaculate Machine was very appealing, and I think they made a great impression despite only having a half hour or so to play.
MP3: Immaculate Machine - Broken Ship
MySpace: Immaculate Machine
Official Site: Immaculate Machine
Emma Pollock brought a far more substantial band, including a keyboardist, bassist and drummer, compared to the first time I saw her, and the sound was far more muscular as a result. Emma's voice took a couple songs to really get warmed up, but she was in peak form for the rest of the set. It was misleading that the first songs that surfaced from her album Watch The Fireworks were the stripped down "Limbs" and "Fortune," as it's very much a rock record. Emma and keyboardist Jamie Savage did play the former song in all its stripped-down beauty, but for the rest of the songs were a matter of addition rather than subtraction. On "Paper & Glue" and "Here Comes The Heartbreaker," another guy came on and played tambourine and sang backup vocals. On finale "The Optimist," Kathryn joined in and played accordion, although the song was a bit too slow to be a total climax. Although Emma is very deserving of attention, it's clear that the project is more than just a solo effort.
MP3: Emma Pollock - Adrenaline
MP3: Emma Pollock - Limbs
MySpace: Emma Pollock
Official Site: Emma Pollock
The New Pornographers
The New Pornographers made the evening one to remember. Neko Case and Dan Bejar were in attendance, along with a number of backup musicians, adding violin, accordion, cello, and trumpet, among others. The result was a dizzying collective mentality, as lead vocals were swapped between Carl Newman, Neko and Dan, and the rest of the band's contributions were equally varied. "All the Things That Go To Make Heaven and Earth" opened, giving the crowd an immediate taste of new album Challengers. As with many new releases from my favorite bands, I'm still more inclined towards older work, but the new songs were generally solid live. "Use It" was a buoyant follow-up, and I would say that Twin Cinema yielded the greatest number of "hits" over the course of the night. Dan Bejar joined the band for "Myriad Harbour," adding his distinct voice, although the chorus let Neko, Carl and Kathryn to all participate.
Neko was spectacular throughout the night, her powerful voice making most of her lead songs highlights. Kathryn wasn't quite as immediate, but she did a nice job backing up and occasionally singing lead. "Unguided" proved that the band was as adept at sprawling epics as breezy power pop, and the softer tracks were conveyed with authority. The undeniable highlight of the set was "The Bleeding Heart Show," which finished the main set. It grew from a slow burning vocal from Carl to a full-blown chorus, not merely from the band, but from the majority of the crowd as well. The encore saw the band joined by Gordan Gano of the Violent Femmes, and the band performed a cover of "I Held Her In My Arms." An unprecedented encore followed, with Neko unleashing her voice on "Letter From An Occupant." At over an hour and a half, it was one of the most impressive performances I've witnessed.
Here's the band at the 9:30 Club, recorded by NPR on March 6th, 2007.
1. Twin Cinema
2. Use It
3. July Jones
6. From Blown Speakers
7. The End of Medicine
8. A Testament To Youth In Verse
9. The Body Says No
10. Breaking The Law
11. A Slow Descent Into Alcoholism
12. The Bleeding Heart Show
13. Sing Me Spanish Techno
MySpace: The New Pornographers
Official Site: The New Pornographers