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GURNETT: New Pornographers put on a virtual master class

The New Pornographers have been Canadian pop-rock staples since their first album, Mass Romantic, was released in 2001. In the time since, the band has been churning out brilliant albums full of pop goodness every two and three years and extensively touring. On Tuesday, July 25th, they came to town in support of their most recent album, Whiteout Conditions. The seven-piece group, touting the finest pop that Canada has to offer, was ready and willing to entertain a modestly-sized crowd at Asbury Hall.
Cleveland-based indie/noise rock band Cloud Nothings opened. Let me say this first: I really like Cloud Nothings. Their most recent release, Life Without Sound, is fantastic. I was really looking forward to seeing them. This was not their night.
Plain and simple, drummer Jayson Gerycz pounded the hell out of his drums and the muddy, overplayed bottom end made their entire set sound muddy. He had a very minimal drum kit, with just one tom -- a very low-tuned floor tom -- and he used it in excess. Between that and TJ Duke’s persistent bass playing -- which, like the drums, also lacked any dynamic and space -- vocalist/guitarist Dylan Baldi and guitarist Chris Brown were completely drowned out.
In the small amounts of space where you could actually hear the guitars and vocals, you could hear influences from early 90’s noise rock mainstays like Sonic Youth, Pavement and Dinosaur Jr. But given the issues with sound and an almost complete lack of audience engagement, this wasn’t a great night for Cloud Nothings.
*When The New Pornographers came onstage, they took over the entire room. The sizable group (two guitars, bass, violin, two keyboards and drums), filled the stage and broke into fan-favorite “Moves.” Vocalists A.C. Newman (also on guitar) and Simi Stone (also on violin and auxiliary percussion) immediately engaged with the crowd. Newman’s smiling and eye contact with the crowd, paired with Stone’s high energy bopping around stage, created a vibrant, enthusiastic mood that was contagious for a crowd already really into the concert. As a big fan of The New Pornographers who’d never seen them live, this was the party I imagined listening to their albums, right down to the bright color-changing LED lights on the keyboard stands. (You could also notice the sound was noticeably better for The New Pornographers’ set.)
They played for about an hour and half, doling out upbeat pop all night, including “High Ticket Attraction,” “Sweet Talks,” “Play Money,” “World of the Theater,” “Back Stairs,” “Jessica Numbers,” and “Whiteout Conditions,” the title track from their most recent album.
For me, The New Pornographers put on a virtual master class of how to make brilliant pop music. There was energy and joy in heaps, but you also saw a band with seven instruments make room for each other. The sound was never muddy. You could hear the members of the band leaving room for each other on stage. Every part had its place in the song and in the mix; they are clearly a band that understands subtlety and texture can trump volume any day of the week. They went out on “The Bleeding Heart Show,” a song that ends in a joyous crescendo, a perfect finale that left the crowd wanting more.
I could have watched The New Pornographers play for another two hours. Though a few personal favorites were missing from the setlist (“Crash Years”, “Mutiny, I Promise You,” “Chump Change”), the concert was phenomenal. Check out their newest album, “Whiteout Conditions,” and keep The New Pornographers on your radar. The next time they bust into town with their party, you don’t want to miss it.

Ryan Gurnett has a B.S. in Music Industry from The College of St Rose. He has worked as a studio engineer, live sound engineer, producer and sound editor and has been a musician for 25 years. He is currently the bassist for The Lady, or the Tiger?. Email him at never_really_been@hotmail.com or find him on Twitter @SirWilliamIdol.

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