Sunday, 6 February 2011

804 THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS, 'Allo Darlin', London Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Thursday 9 December 2010

The final gig of an entirely satisfying 2010 Gigging Year – 28 in total, including the landmark gig 800 – and it’s kind of a new band on me; The New Pornographers, whom Tim introduced me to earlier this year when I was looking for some challenging new music, and whose current, 5th, album ,“Together”, I’d picked up as a result. Initially dismissing it as pretty but lightweight, it’s since grown on me considerably, displaying as it does those overlooked virtues of quality, intelligent songcraft and excellent musicianship. A loose collective built around 2 Vancouver singer-songwriters, Neko Case and Carl “AC” Newman, they’ve a terrible name but an intriguing one, and this became a gig I increasingly looked forward to, as it loomed closer.

A slight car-mare to start off, however; Tim was working in Oxford so we agreed to meet up at Chieveley, but it took ages to clear Swindon due to an accident on the M4 slipway, and I then had to pay £10 to park! Ouch! However, it was plain sailing thereafter and we parked at ¼ to 8 at the Bush, hitting the oddly deserted venue 45 minutes before the first band were on! Said band, the equally poorly named ‘Allo Darlin’, featured a gawky yet oddly attractive Australian female vocalist, playing a ukulele over some slightly dated sounding but charming fey whimsical pop, as if C86 had never left us. Said vocalist and the impressively gay-moustached bassist bounced up and down over songs such as “Darren”, the Darren in question being the lead singer of Hefner, which kind of nailed their influences to the mast somewhat. Nevertheless, a diverting way to spend half an hour.

The venue filled up, but was by no means full, as we leant by the barriers, stage left, awaiting The New Pornographers, who joined just before 9.30. A 7-piece band, they kicked off with “Moves”, “Together”'s opening track, the strident riff leading into a buoyant,upbeat march of a song. They fairly whipped through their set, for the most part only stopping for brief pauses to swap tambourines around between numbers, and chalked up an impressive 22 numbers (including the 2 encores) in their 1½ hour performance. Good going! Difficult to pigeonhole, their sound is based on some very cleverly built rhythm changes, nagging pseudo choral hooks scattered liberally throughout their intelligently structured numbers, and some striking male-female vocal interplay from twin figureheads Carl, and Neko, who with an unkempt pile of ginger hair resembled a more striking Carol Decker! A real intelligence, without descending into clever-cleverness, at work to make their songs sound deceptively simple yet have the ability to grow on you like a rash. During one of their lengthier between-song breaks, Carl, in response to a comment from the drummer referencing Motorhead’s “No Sleep Till Hammersmith” album, cutely asked, “what element of my songs suggest that I own anything by Motorhead?” which was a fair point. More telling, perhaps, was his comment about looking forward to see Julian Cope (“who you may know from his earlier work as… Julian Cope”) at ATP this weekend. Good taste!

I’ve evidently got some homework to do on this band, as I enjoyed most of the unfamiliar (to me) material as much as their “Together” stuff, surprisingly rockier as some of it was, although my highlights of a sparkling, upbeat and deliciously poppy sing-along set were the early-set “Crash Years” and “Up In The Dark”. Overall, a lovely way to conclude the gig year!

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