Having just gotten off the road opening for Spoon, the New Pornographers will soon be joined by fellow Canadian’s Ought for the next month of dates. Connecticut being one of the few non-festival, non-Spoon headlined shows of the month, Cloud Nothings opened the show. It was an odd pairing. The New Pornographers drew a surprisingly older crowd to New Haven’s College Street Music Hall despite Yale having freshman orientation just a block away. Many of the grey haired crowd huddled back towards the bar while Cloud Nothings ripped through a set of grungy punk. I’m not sure if it was just where I was standing or if it was intentional but the sound mix was muddy wall-of-sound. Most lead guitar parts that are present on Cloud Nothings’ record works were indistinguishable. The energy they played with was commendable but a lack of talking between songs made the band seem like they did not particularly want to be there. Before leaving the stage, lead singer Dylan Baldi did sarcastically tell the crowd to check out the new Kid Rock video saying “they kill a possum. It’s crazy.”
Rolling Stones’ review of The New Pornographer’s debut album, Mass Romantic, referred to the group as “a Vancouver indie supergroup with…three lead singers: alt-country chanteuse Neko Case, Zumpano frontman Carl Newman and acid-voiced Dan Bejar.” When the New Pornographers rolled into Connecticut, the lineup was remarkable less super. Absent was Bejar, who to be fair was not on the New Pornographers’ latest album, Whiteout Conditions. They were also without Neko Case which begs the question “who are the New Pornographers? A Canadian supergroup or a backing band for AC Newman?”
The only people to really have a say in that matter are Kathryn Calder and Simi Stone. Calder originally joined the band as a touring member to fill in for Neko Case back in the mid-2000s. She has since become a full member. Simi Stone has been touring with the band since 2015, contributing vocals and violin. She has not been featured on any albums as of yet. Between the two, they picked up the void left by Case’s absence. Calder filled in on songs like “Play Money,” “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk,” and “Champions of Red Wine.” Stone was Calder’s vocal partner for “Whiteout Conditions” instead of Case.
But make no mistake, The New Pornographers are AC Newman’s band. The frontman cycled through classics like “Brill Bruisers,” “Use It,” and “Dancehall Domine.” The band even dusted off the rarely played live “We End Up Together” and “The Jessica Numbers.” They closed with the traditional “Mass Romantic” before returning shortly to play an encore.
Newman introduced the encore saying “you’ll never believe it, we forgot to play our two best songs.” While “The Bleeding Heart Show” has been the band’s ultimate closing number since 2014, what their other “best song” could be was up for debate. It turned out to mean “The Laws Have Changed” which was interesting considering setlists posted online revealed that they omitted the song altogether from a few of their last couple of shows. In the end, the set omitted such “best song” contenders like “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” “Challengers,” among others.
Despite any initial disappointment the audience felt for not having Neko Case, the New Pornographers sounded fantastic. Hearing Kathryn Calder pick up Case’s part made you realize what a talent she is. Calder does contribute more vocals on Whiteout Conditions but judging from the performance, it might be time for her to make the New Pornographers a supergroup with four lead singers.