For years, the M.O. of indie rock has been smart people making intelligent but depressing music.
Yet for 14 years and five albums, the New Pornographers have been mixing intelligence with bright, multi-layered pop and tight harmonies to create one of the best sounds in the business.
They proved it again Friday night at the Vogue, keeping a crowd of 1,000 aging, normally unaffected, hipsters dancing (or at least swaying) and singing every word throughout a 20-song set.
An underrated quality for any live band is mastery of its own catalog. Too often, a band leans heavily on a couple of albums or a bunch of covers to keep the show going. That can't be said of this band, and it's no small feat considering the intricacy of some of their songs.
After opening with a cover of Shocking Blue's "Shocking You," the next 19 songs were originals, the band drawing anywhere from two to five songs from each of its albums.
While they played obvious favorites like "The Slow Descent into Alcoholism," "Your Hands (Together)" and "Use It," one gets the impression that nearly any song from the catalog would fit into the show nicely.
The band goes about its business onstage with minimal banter, save a few words exchanged between frontman A.C. Newman and most famous member Neko Case, who share the lead vocal duties. The show isn't between the songs, though, and the band puts its passion into the songs, producing remarkably tight arrangements for a super group whose members all have other projects.
The first half of the set featured few breathers, as a torrid pace continued through highlights like "Moves," "Crash Years," "All the Old Showstoppers" and "Twin Cinema." It finally slowed a bit with Newman's soulful exchanges with Case and Kathryn Calder on "Adventures in Solitude."
The second half of the show was less torrid, varying the pace more, including a nice rendition of Dan Bejar's (who is absent on this tour) "Testament to Youth in Verse."
The show reached a crescendo with "Bleeding Heart Show," my personal favorite TNPs song, to close the regular set.
A three-song encore of "Challengers," "Up in the Dark" and "Sing Me Spanish Techno," ended the evening nicely and sent the crowd home humming to the melodies.