It’s getting increasingly hard to justify crossing ye olde London Town on a school night, and the list of acts which I’d do that for is becoming increasingly smaller. The New Pornographers, however, certainly still feature; barely 2 ½ years after 2014’s “Brill Bruisers”, they’re back with a new album, “Whiteout Conditions”, which continues their journey towards a synthier and more electronic framework upon which to base their splendidly crafted and ingeniously arranged material. Interestingly, this is also the first to be exclusively written by mainman Carl “AC” Newman, rather than with regular contributors Neko Case and Dan Bejar chipping in, possibly explaining both the lack of a solo AC Newman album in the intervening gap, as is this prolific songwriter’s usual modus operandi, and also the relatively quick turnaround between albums!
No matter, I’m happy with a new New Pornographers album whenever and however it arrives, and particularly if it’s accompanied by their usual whistle stop London date. Rach didn’t fancy Camden on a Tuesday night, though, but Beef did, so we headed off early and parked up in Shepherd’s Bush, tubing over to the Electric Ballroom for 8pm. Quiet early doors, this one, and it was still sparsely attended when support Creatures took the stage at 8.30. Not Siouxsie and Budgie’s old side project, unsurprisingly, this was rather a 5-piece of pseudo cowboy musicians bedecked in shoelace ties, waistcoats and Stetsons, playing an approximation of some Quentin Tarantino spaghetti western soundtrack tunes, and led by the bastard son of Benicio Del Toro, all tumbling of hair and thick of sideburns and ‘tache, mincing unfortunately around the stage like Larry Grayson. Probably shooting for a dustier desert version of The Killers but falling way short, and if our friend the vocalist’s voice (particularly the top-end range) were more quavery, it’d be in a yellow packet!
Anyway, from the ridiculous to the sublime; our spot down the front, stage left, got appreciably busier as the witching hour approached, and when The New Pornographers took the stage at 9.30 to some rousing punk backing track, anticipation was palpable. They didn’t disappoint; opener “High Ticket Attractions” was a chugging rocker featuring a sublime triple vocal attack of Newman, keyboardist Kathryn Calder and new tour member, backing vocalist Simi Stone, all line astern at the front of the stage (with the guitarist, somewhat prophetically given the prominence of the keyboards in the more recent material, secreted away next to the hard-hitting drummer); “The Laws Have Changed” kept the pace fast and frantic, and an excellent, unexpected “Twin Cinema” completed an breathless opening triple salvo. Great start!
This was a tremendous and startlingly hard-rocking performance from The New Pornographers, with one powerful, strident blast of superbly hand-crafted alt/ powerpop following another, with little respite until the plaintive, slow-burn acoustic opening of “Adventures In Solitude”, 9 numbers in! Led by the initially taciturn Newman (no Dan Bejar at all tonight, so none of his songs such as “War On The East Coast” in the set), they charged through the set at a ferocious pace, giving the impression of a prize-fighter trying to put his opponent away early! Certainly the songs were all knockout punches; “Dancehall Domine” was a colourful, funky strut, “Whiteout Conditions” a metronomic and cascading wordy build-up to a soaring choral hook, easily the best of the new numbers on display, and “World Of The Theater” featured some splendidly lilting vocals from Calder. Newman eventually loosened up, complimenting London’s tourist attractions before “Backstairs”, and, following the brilliant, beetle-crushing boot stomp of set highlight “Sing Me Spanish Techno”, responded to the crowd’s ovation with, “just [give us] a nod of approval – that’s all we want!”
Simi Stone took an impressive lead vocal for the blaring synth of “Play Money”, prompting a high five from Newman and a subsequent boast from the frontman about beating his 5 year old at “high five, down low, too slow”, because, “his brain’s not fully formed yet!” The subsequent “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” was lovely, a joyous fairgroundesque reel, calling for, “specific handclaps!” from Simi, and a galloping “Mass Romantic” closed out the set. The best, however, was saved for last; a 4-song encore (featuring another go at “High Ticket Attractions” as, “we screwed it up,” according to Newman) was topped with their masterpiece, “The Bleeding Heart Show”, again sneaking in like a ghost in the night, inveigling its’ way into one’s consciousness before building to a huge and euphoric crescendo. Just the perfect way to close out a quite superb performance. Set-list, merch, food at the Bush and a red-eyed, late arrival home (1.20 am), but totally worth the effort!