The New Pornographers played what would have been a great show on almost any other night, hamstrung by a severely lacking mix. While Canopy isn’t exactly acoustically perfect — big concrete boxes rarely are — and I doubt that the New Pornographers are the simplest band to mix. I’ve been to basement shows that sounded better than this. I’m not sure if it was inadequate soundcheck, the abundance of vocal mics, or simply a touring soundman who wasn’t familiar with the Canopy, but the mix was muddled, bassy, and depressingly lacking in Neko Case. “The Laws Have Changed” suffered especially badly, with Neko’s vocals relegated to background slush and the crucial organ line all but inaudible.
While the Walkmen carried themselves past the sound difficulties with brute force and enthusiasm, the New Pornographers are a much more intricate and subtle band, not the kind that can easily push through a bad mix. Granted, if you went into this show as a big New Pornographers fan, you probably loved it, but as someone who only really knows the radio singles, I found it impossible to form any kind of connection with the band. After all, how do you get any kind of performer-audience rapport when even the stage banter is difficult to hear?
After “My Rights Versus Yours” and “Use It” closed out the main set, I skipped out. I’m sure things got crazy when (I assume) they played “Sing Me Spanish Techno” in the encore, but I wasn’t going to get anything else out of the show at that point, and neither was anyone else who wasn’t already a big fan.
The Walkmen (by Jeremiah Stanley)
The Walkmen’s set was impressive last night. It was my first time seeing them live and I admit I was more excited to see them than The New Pornographers. Yeah, yeah, they’re a big deal and The Walkmen are just so so. At least that’s the general consensus I got from all of my friends.
Fortunately The Walkmen weren’t a victim of the terrible sound that The New Pornographers had during their set. As Ben said, it’s really hard to identify and connect with a band when the sound is bad. I got lost in everything (in a bad way).
What really stood out to me from the Walkmen was Matt Barrick on drums. The dude looks younger than some of the “18-year-olds” in attendance but he tore it up. I had never really thought of the band as one distinguishable or highly favorable because of their drumbeats, but I came away from the show with a new respect.
Aside from Barrick, Hamilton Leithauser was nearly as impressive to me. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into the night. Was this going to be one of those bands that I loved the recorded vocals but, upon seeing them live, would become bitter and disappointed? Apparently not. “Ham” was powerful on stage, not necessarily intimidating but appearing like if you tried to join him on stage to sing he’d fight you- maybe with his fists but mostly with his vocal chords. His voice never broke, even when he wailed and held it until you were sure something had to give with him or the speakers (especially during the climax of “All Hands and the Cook”). Neither faltered.
My other favorites of the night were the tracks “Angela Surf City”, “Blue As Your Blood” and “Victory” from Lisbon, “In the New Year” from You & Me, the crowd favorite “The Rat” and a new untitled track that sounded great. I’m definitely looking forward to hearing more of the new songs in the coming year.
The band as a whole was tight. I had heard stories from friends who had seen them years ago at Krannert or Lollapalooza about how sloppily they played. Or how they were drunk (possibly “accidentally” whiskey drunk?). But, when I spoke with bassist Walt Martin a couple weeks ago he mentioned how their focus and search for meaning was there with the new stuff. I guess it’s transferred to their previous work too, as they shined throughout the night.