All in all, we Minions aren't the festive type. In fact, we
only have two officially sanctioned celebrations: Oglethorpe
Day (which makes sense since the majority of the minions attended
University) and Snake-Whacking Day. But that's about
it. So the irony of the date of the Atlanta New Pornographer's
concert was lost on me: St. Valentine's Day is not a holiday
that tends to stick in my consciousness.
But, truth be told, I was looking forward to this show. The
New Pornographer's 2000 release, Mass
Romantic, is an album that has grown on me since
the time I purchased it. Originally, I had found this take on
sunny BritPop not as impressive as its reviews would have you
believe; however as time progressed, I had to admit the catchiness
of the tunes and the exuberance of the delivery persuaded me.
Furthermore, PostLibyan's been raving about the recordings of
openers The Frames for a long time and I was eager to see if
the band could live up to his compliments.
When we got to The Echo Lounge, the first band, Atlanta's Grumpy,
had already begun to play. I had seen them once long ago, when
The Echo Lounge has first opened, and, if I remember correctly,
I had liked them. Hearing them again, I was struck by their
hard take on the '90's Chapel Hill Indie Rock sound, full of
heavy rhythm and distorted guitars. These days, the closest
relatives to Grumpy's version of this music come out of Athens,
where bands like Ceiling Fan and Hayride play similar-sounding
songs. It's fun and a little over the top and, on this night,
it provided an ideal, upbeat opener for the rest of the show.
As I mentioned before, PostLibyan's been raving about The
Frames for quite a while now, so I'm more or less familiar
with their music. In general, I like their powerful pop sound,
although I tend to like my pseudo-Irish rock music a little
more drunken (or angry, depending on the time). However, on
this night, The Frames were far far better than I ever could
have expected. Why? Because, although they primarily played
songs from their two most recent albums, they altered them in
concert, adding flourishes or other melodies that enhanced the
overall structure. Furthermore, vocalist/guitarist Glen Hansard
used the downtime between songs to tell anecdotes about the
music. The entire package of music, story-telling, and embellishment
truly added to the overall set, and reminded me of the energy
and humor displayed by many of my favorite live bands, not least
of which is the Irish-American band Black 47. Around me, the
crowd seemed to agree, becoming more and more animated by The
Frames as their set progressed.
After the excellent performance of The Frames, I wasn't sure
what The New Pornographers could offer up. And in some ways,
they didn't really top The Frames. Instead, their set was exactly
what you might expect: tightly played, cheerfully fun, mid-60s
(by way of early 90s) BritPop. And, also as you might expect,
it seemed like the vast majority of the audience was focused
on the singing and antics of co-vocalist Neko Case. And both
of these components were just as good as one would hope.
However, on this evening, there was one element that made this
concert even better: the singing and playing of guitarist/vocalist
Carl Newman. Although many reviews of The New Pornographers
make this band sound like "Neko Case and her BritPop Boyfriends,"
it was clear at this show that Newman's vision and singing are
the real backbone of the unit. I noticed it during the energetic
rendition of Slow Descent into Alcoholism which began
the set, and my opinion solidified as the night progressed.
Like a cruise director, Newman kept everything focused and moving,
while providing a lush masculine counterpoint to Case's flashier
In short, they all sounded great (courtesy of the occasionally
dodgy Echo Lounge soundboard), and I was truly sad when it came
to end. These days, it seems like it's rare to get two excellent
bands on a concert bill (much less three), so I have to say
that as a show experience, it was wondrously successful, with
all three bands ending up getting my highest recommendations.