When: April 22, 2011
Where: The Vogue Theater (Indianapolis)
Headliner: New Pornographers
Opening act: The Walkmen
My friend, Drew, and I are both big music fans and we both have relatively eclectic tastes. But, for the most part, we don’t really overlap too much. He generally likes his music on the heavier, guitar-laden side, whereas I lean toward lighter fare.
But there are definitely plenty of acts where we see eye to eye — or would it be “hear ear to ear” — and nowhere more so than when it comes to the New Pornographers.
I’ve loved Neko Case ever since I saw her performing solo in 2006, and became a fan of the rest of the crew soon thereafter. Drew’s love of the band peaked after seeing them at a festival a few years ago, and his infatuation with Ms. Case would probably be labeled as unhealthy.
Nevertheless, when their tour schedule was announced in November, we quickly decided we needed book a trip for the Indianapolis show.
And it was definitely an added bonus to see that The Walkmen would be the opening act.
When I first heard The Walkmen about seven years ago upon the release of their second album, Bows + Arrows, I deemed them another one of the many Strokes wannabes that were on the scene at the time.
But after a few more releases, I started to hear a definite Bob Dylan influence in the vocals — especially throughout A Hundred Miles Off.
After listening to their latest release, Lisbon, a few times, I detected a slight vibe of The National — most notably in the drums. That opinion was cemented after seeing them in concert.
Not only did the drummer — Matt Barrick, who was excellent by the way — remind of The National’s man on the skins, Bryan Devendorf, it quickly became apparent that the two bands are very similar in overall tone. They both play a lot of dark, sorrowful songs that dig into the listener’s soul. Even their more upbeat songs are still haunting lyrically.
As Drew noted before, during and after the show, about one-third of The Walkmen’s songs are boring and the rest are really good. We ended up getting a mix of both types during the band’s set, which was just shy of an hour long.
Personally, I find that The Walkmen’s songs sound a lot alike, so I can never really differentiate one from another. But I was able to pick out a few of their hits, including “The Rat”, “Donde Esta La Playa”, “Woe Is Me” and “Angela Surf City”.
The one thing I noted was that, for pretty much every song, lead singer Hamilton Leithauser waited a longer-than-usual amount of time before singing any lyrics. You can see for yourself in the above clip.
It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it allowed me to enjoy the solid instrumentation more than I normally would. It was just something that stood out to me.
Drew complained that they ended on the wrong song and should’ve finished on their second-to-last one. I agreed. Unfortunately, I don’t know the title of the last two songs, which might help clear things up a little.
All in all, it was a solid set. Leithauser had great energy during most of the songs and they managed to get my feet tapping and head bobbing on multiple occasions.
I’d never properly seen Neko Case perform with the New Pornographers. Before last weekend, I’d seen the band twice — once at Pitchfork Music Festival and again at a venue in Chicago. The first time, I was pretty tired and slept through much of the set. The other time, Neko was not touring with the band.
So, needless to say, I was pretty excited to finally attend a real New Pornographers show. (OK, so Dan Bejar wasn’t there, but I’m still counting this.)
Immediately upon taking the stage, they displayed the stature to which they have ascended as they opened with a cover. It was Shocking Blue’s “Shocking You”, which I doubt more than a few in attendance actually recognized. (I certainly didn’t.)
Drew would later note that few bands can get away with such a stunt. Pearl Jam did something similar when we saw them last year and they opened with an acoustic tune.
They then proceeded to churn out songs from all throughout their catalogue, including such ditties as “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism”, “Crash Years”, “Twin Cinema”, “Your Hands (Together)” and “The Bleeding Heart Show”, which ended the set.
I found an unofficial setlist online that seems pretty accurate from what I can recall. There’s some debate as to whether they actually played “Jackie, Dressed In Cobras” or not. A couple of people on that site think they did; Drew vehemently disagrees.
Anyway, they quickly returned for a three-song encore that started with my favorite tune of theirs, “Challengers”, the title track from their penultimate album. They sent the crowd home happy by closing with “Sing Me Spanish Techno”.
It was a great set from top to bottom. My only complaint was that Carl Newman’s vocals seemed somewhat muted. Also, Neko’s vocals stood out from time to time, but not quite as much as one might expect.
No matter. Still a great show.