Last night was the first of 2 Nokia Theatre shows featuring my ultimate dream bill: The New Pornographers and Belle & Sebastian, two bands that I've probably seen collectively close to 20 times in the past, sharing a stage together. This is what power pop dreams are made of. The night was filled with hours and hours of listening pleasure (and one nice comedic surprise), so on with the recapping.
First off, the venue. This was my first time at the Times Square, uber-corporate theatre, so I was curious. After taking a dark, black-lit elevator which felt like I was going on Space Mountain, you get to the lobby area, which was pretty nice, like a swank mall or a corporate office showroom. The theater itself was interesting. A floor with seating in the back, kind've like the Theater at MSG. I don't know why the floor was split-leveled, but the sound was good and cans of bud were 6 bucks; no more expensive than Webster Hall, so I didn't fell like I was being unpleasantly raped by the Heineken Corporation.
The New Pornographer took the stage at 8:30 on the dot. I knew Neko Case and Dan Bejar wouldn't be there, so we got the bar bones version. I didn't mind since they sounded really full. One of the best sound I heard from them. They played a great mix of songs from their 3 albums for about 50 minutes, and Carl Newman was being particularly funny and silly. Katherine Calder has gotten a lot more confident singing Neko's parts (but alas, she's still no Neko Case. Sorry to bring up that argument, but she just doesn't project like her). She sang Mass Romantic
and The Laws Have Changed
with a lot of energy. I won't give a full set list, but here's what I remembered them playing: Twin Cinema, Bleeding Heart Show, Blown Speakers, Bones of an Idol, Fake Headlines, Stacked Crooked, Execution Day
(a nice surprise! When they do a Bejar song without them, don't they usually do Jackie
or Testament to Youth and Verse
?), It's Only Divine Right, Slow Descent into Alcoholism
Then the first surprise of the night. After The NPs set, Carl started talking about how honored he was to be sharing the stage with his heroes. I assumed he was talking about B&S, but instead he brought out a little known German, one-song Billy Joel cover band called Matter of Trust. Of course, the 50 people in the audience that were at the Bowery Ballroom Invite Them Up Release Party
knew who Matter of Trust really were: Comedians Jon Benjamin, Jon Glaser, Todd Barry, Tom Shillue, and James McNew from Yo La Tango. Actually, when you think of it, it wasn't too surprising. Wherever the New Pornographers are, comedians seem to follow (or vice versa) and even during their set, my friends and I were wondering if David 'I'm friends with the band' Cross or Eugene Mirman would show up on stage. In fact, Carl Newman made a sly, knowing reference to Matter of Trust during their set, which should've made it obvious to my friends and I that they'd show up. I actually saw Eugene after Matter of Trust's song and we had a nice, brief talk about how much the audience seemed to enjoy them, it being only their second time performing. He also said they weren't gonna play at tonight's show, and I asked him if maybe he'll take the stage instead. It seemed a possibility. (I also saw Todd Barry after the show and congratulated him, but he warned the audience not to blog about it).
As great as all that was, it was really just the cherry on top of the icing before the cake. By 10pm, B&S came out on stage and played a nearly 2 hour set of songs. Now, this is maybe my 8th time seeing the band, and as much of a fan as I am, I first have to say that yes, the band may not be the most exciting live band. In fact, their shows used to be a notorious, shambolic mess. But they've certainly tightened up in recent years and apart from the occasional false start and flubbed lyric, they have been a commanding live band at recent shows (especially their 2 Town Hall shows during the Dear Catastrophe tour). Last night's show was wonderful for the most part, but their were some moments of low energy, especially coming off The NPs strong set. For some reason Another Sunny Day
and Sukie in the Graveyard
, 2 of the stronger songs on the new album, didn't have the same impact live.
So, with that criticism out of the way, let me tell you what was great about their set last night: Namely, Your Cover's Blown
. This was the song I was most excited to hear and it didn't disappoint. I loved how they stripped down the first chorus to just voice and bass, and best of all, Stuart Murdoch staged dived into the crowd during the middle eight 'I should've stayed home' part. Wow. That was incredible.
There were many other highlights. I love how Electric renaissance
went from a song that they wouldn't touch live to a show staple almost overnight (I think this has a lot to do with keyboardist Chris 'Beans' Geddes' embrace of all techno and dj culture), and how Stevie busted out a kind've robotic werewolf dance move during that song's solo. The banter was really fun too between Stuart and Stevie: when Stevie was tuning his guitar, causing a false start on Century of Fakers
(apparently this is the first tour they've played this song since Isobel left), Stuart warned the audience not to 'play with Stevie's knobs'. Another highlight was Stuart getting 6 girls in skirts from the audience on stage to can can with rifles to If You Find Yourself Caught in Love
, and ordering them like a perverted drill sergeant "You're wearing jeans instead of a skirt! You'll have to take it off". Yes, it is somewhat disturbing watching Stuart transform from shy, sexually ambiguous wallflower to sexist horndog in recent years, but he's having so much fun that I can't bring myself to judge him. And besides, Caught in Love
is such a great live song, nothing could ruin it for me.
There's probably a lot more to their set that I'm forgetting to mention. I wish I took some pics, but I stupidly checked my camera in my bag, and I was too far back from the stage to get any good shots anyway (I'm sure someone on line got great pics. Check out Chromewave's
shots from their Toronto show. Simply amazing).
Here's what I remember from the setlist. This is in no way in order, and I might've missed a few tunes. Another criticism, if I could call it that, was the set was very Sinister heavy. It seemed they played more tracks off Sinister than off The Life Pursuit, and both songs in the encore were Sinister tracks. Nothing from Arab Strap or Fold Your Hands made it into the set. Hopefully, tonight they'll mix it up a bit. If I had to guess tonight's set, judging from what they didn't play, I'd say they'll open up with Act of The Apostle
; they'll play Blues Are Still Blue
and Mornington Crescent
in lieu of Sukie
and Dress Up in You
; probably Slow Graffiti and maybe Le Pastie
or Photo Jenny
instead of Century of Fakers
and Dog On Wheels
; and maybe some more of Tigermilk to balance out the Sinister tracks from last night (You're Just a Baby
or She's Losing It Perhaps).
Stars of Track and Field
Another Sunny Day
Funny Little Frog
Century of Fakers
Sukie in the Graveyard
Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner
To Be Myself Completely
Dress Up In You
Fox in the Snow
White Collar Boy
Your Cover's Blown
I'm a Cuckoo
Dog on Wheels
If You Find Yourself Caught in Love
The State I'm In
Judy and The Dream of Horses
Me and the Major