Concert Review: The New Pornographers Leave Montreal Deeply Satisfied

Vancouver-Based Indie-Rock Royalty Pays Our City a Visit

Carl Newman from The New Pornographers front and centre onstage at Corona Theatre. Photo Daren Zomerman
Kathryn Calder at the mic for The New Pornographers at Corona Theatre. Photo Daren Zomerman

It wasn’t a packed house at the Corona theatre on Friday, but that was by no means a disappointment for those in attendance.

In fact, perhaps this kind of laid back, intimate performance in one of Montreal’s century-old vintage theatres is what indie enthusiasts came to see as they took in the live version of the New Pornographers’ latest album, Whiteout Conditions.

It’s been about 20 years since The New Pornographers first entered Vancouver’s music scene with their wonderfully weird, power-pop sound. The band, consisting of a fluid line-up of wickedly talented musicians and vocalists, is well praised for their catchy guitar riffs, eloquent lyrics, and gorgeous vocal harmonies that could simultaneously sweep you off your feet and rock you to sleep.

The band’s carefully curated sound is attributed to vocalist and guitarist Carl Newman and guitarist Dan Bejar. The rest of the powerful line-up currently consists of vocalist Neko Case, guitarist Todd Fancey, keyboardists and vocalists Blaine Thurier and Kathryn Calder, bassist John Collins, and recently added drummer and vocalist Joe Seiders.

Every few years, each and every one of these musicians finds time away from their other bands and solo careers to assemble as The New Pornographers to record a killer album.

Initially saying few words to the crowd upon taking the stage, the band still kicked things off strongly with the beat-driving hit “Jessica Numbers” from their 2005 release Twin Cinema.

The rest of their set list was peppered with songs off the new record as well as some older fan favourites, culminating in the quiet-to-thunderingly-epic track, “Bleeding Heart Show.”

Some of the high points throughout the concert included the subtle changes in stage lighting to match the band’s energy on their latest single “High Ticket Attractions,” a song which reflects the anxiety felt in the US leading up to the presidential election of 2016.

Simi Stone onstage for The New Pornographers at Corona Theatre. Photo Daren Zomerman

“This thing could go two ways, won’t be another exit for days,” Newman and Calder sing in deceptively uplifting tones. “So pack a small suitcase, anything else can be easily replaced.”

Possibly, this is the very anxiety that inspired frontman Carl Newman’s confession on Friday night that he is currently considering returning to Canada after living in the U.S. for a number of years.

After being offered a round of shots by an audience member, Newman lamented the state of affairs in the US and jokingly implored the audience to help him convince his wife that learning to speak French and be cold are small prices to pay for moving to Montreal. The audience eagerly offered up beautiful people, cheap housing, and good food as arguments to help win her over.

Although Bejar is currently missing from the band’s most recent record due to his work with the band Destroyer, Whiteout Conditions is one of the tightest-sounding records out of the band’s seven studio albums.

Released in April, the new record upholds all the promises made by their earlier albums Mass Romantic from 2000 and Twin Cinema, immediately inspiring some serious head-bopping and toe-tapping with the opening track, “Play Money.”

Really, though, the aforementioned song, “High Ticket Attractions,” and title track “Whiteout Conditions” were what got the crowd moving on Friday night.

A great setlist paired with the playful energy of touring member Simi Stone, who was the frontwoman for Suffrajett, were the real MVPs that night, especially on the apocalyptic-sounding “Avalanche Alley.”

Though Neko Case was missing from the fray, Stone’s piercing, soulful sound opposite Kathryn Calder’s clear, dulcet tones were more than enough to fill the space that would normally be occupied by Case’s commanding, alt-country vocal stylings.

Despite the band’s line-up being in constant flux, The New Pornographers delivered a solid performance that fans—both longtime and new—should expect of a well-established indie number.

Whiteout Conditions proves to be a strong addition to the band’s repertoire, intertwining hard-hitting lyrics among their beguiling melodies and body-shaking rhythms. This is a band that exists in the real world, yet somehow transcends the grittiness of it all.

The New Pornographers // Whiteout Conditions // Corona Theatre (490 Notre-Dame St W)