How is Neko Case so amazingly awesome? I suppose her power as a head-turning artist lives in the simple combination of kindly cuteness and of course, her stunning voice. Although Kathryn Calder, who sings when Neko can’t make it, certainly does a fine job, it’s really something excellent to see a New Pornographers show with Neko present. It’s also something to have Dan Bejar there, since he rarely tours with the group and only he can give that special zip to the songs he’s penned as part of the band. Both busy musicians made it there for the two Webster Hall shows, setting these dates significantly apart from their free show on the 4th of July earlier this year. And so, out came the whole band last night in their Canadian hugeness, vibrantly offering up many, many favorites, and also a large sampling of new numbers off Challengers, their latest album. The crowd was ecstatic indeed (well I mean, how could you not jump around to these tunes?), and in experiencing many of the newer songs live for the first time, it seemed to me that the NP’s fans are excitedly embracing the latest material. Such a reception was an excellent thing to see, because while Challengers may not be as outwardly energetic and elated as previous albums, it definitely contains other winning features which were only made more clear in this live setting. My heart opened up a little bit more for album number four after seeing this show.
While Carl Newman, Neko, Kathryn, and the others proudly charged through the long set of many numbers, it was funny to see Bejar sauntering on and off stage for his songs only. Not that I’d expect him to stick around and bang the tambourine or something during the other songs, but it was certainly hilarious to see him distractedly shuffle on out at random points during the set. He seemed to occupy a different space than the other members of the band, perhaps one exemplified by the contrasting beverages they consumed during the performance. Carl innocently sipped from a can of Coke in between songs, while Bejar seemed to have a magical, never-emptying beer, presumably refreshed during each of his stints off stage. He’s livin’ the life, I tell ya. During “Testament to Youth in Verse,” with its gorgeous rounds of “No no no…etc.,” he showcased this amazing orange-shaped rhythm thingy. The object made the maraca-esque sound we’ve all come to expect from rhythm eggs, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t look almost exactly like the juicy fruit it was crafted after. Weird, huh? I said to my friend, I said “That thing is amazing. It has the power to both rock and refresh me.”
After all this delightful fun, the NP’s showered the audience with not one but two encores. The last song of the first gave the gift of guest performer Gordon Gano of Violent Femmes fame, which I totally wasn’t expecting. A random occurrence perhaps, but interesting nonetheless. He was cute and visibly excited to be there as they powered through “I Held Her In My Arms.” Sadly, though not surprisingly, this and all the bonus numbers had to contend with the booty shakin’ nightclub action that was beginning to take over Webster Hall’s seedy basement at the time. Between songs it felt like perhaps a small earthquake was underway, and Neko asked the audience why we’d come here when we could be dancing the night away down there. What a jokester. The answer to this farcical question is obviously that we’d rather rock out to their fine musical talents than get inappropriately rubbed against by fellows we’ve never meet before. Dance clubs are funny.