Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

The New Pornographers deliver an uninspired performance


On Wednesday night, Allan Carl Newman asked the Calvin Theatre to guess one of his favorite authors.

“One of my favorite writers lives here, right down the street,” the lead singer of the New Pornographers said between songs. “Can anyone guess who it is? It rhymes with think.”

A few wrong answers fired from the crowd. One man shouted “J.K. Rowling!” four or five times. Newman told everyone to check Wikipedia then counted the band in for a lethargic rendition of “Backstairs” off the New Pornographers’ newest album, “Brill Bruisers.”

“Her name is Kelly Link. She has a new book coming out,” Newman said, seeming defeated.

The New Pornographers seemed to lose something between the studio and the stage, and it’s not just because half of the band’s members were not present for the performance.

Just seven members of the 11-musician collective played at the theatre Wednesday, taking away from the depth heard on “Brill Bruisers.” Among the missing members were Neko Case, a vocalist and founding member, and Kurt Dahle, the band’s drummer of 15 years.

Perhaps it was their absence that accounted for the band’s mostly lackluster performance. Many members seemed bored and uninspired as they played, sometimes even leaving the stage for entire songs if they were not needed. Blaine Thurier, the band’s keyboard player, even spent a few songs tapping on an iPad attached to a speaker.

Or perhaps they are just getting old. Founded in 1996, the New Pornographers have been making music for nearly two decades, and every member has many of their own side projects to attend to. During the performance, many of the collective’s members seemed tired and distracted, and understandably so. Their live performance had no hope of matching the intricate, careful production heard on “Brill Bruisers.”

Female vocalist Kathryn Calder stood in for Case, filling her shoes nicely with deep delicate vocals on songs like “Challengers” and “The Laws Have Changed.” Dan Bejar, another one of the group’s vocalists, also rose to the challenge and offered the audiences just a piece of the energy that was missing from the whole show. Newer tracks like “War on the East Coast” and “Dancehall Domine” successfully engaged listeners, if only because of their catchy, saturated sound and Bejar’s vocals.

Despite the show’s shortfalls, it was clear that the devout fans were determined to have a good time, even if they were not always appreciated. While taking suggestions, Newman called out one person for suggesting the song “Graceland.”

“You’re just requesting that to prove you know all of our songs,” he said. The group never played “Graceland.”

Still, the band found time for a three-song encore, ending on a serene note with one of their most time-tested songs – “Bleeding Heart Show” off the 2005 album, “Twin Cinema.” And you can bet that we knew every word.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at [email protected] and on twitter @srobertson__.

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