“It’s a relief seeing you guys stand, I needed that,” said Neko Case shortly after the New Pornographers hit the stage in front of a sold out crowd at Portland’s Wonder Ballroom on April 16th. Indeed, this was one of the first shows on the band’s current tour in front of a non-seated audience. At a capacity of less than 800, it was also an intimate venue by New Pornographers standards. Case and her bandmates looked excited to be in a more rock-friendly environment, as it would prove ideal for laying into an energetic career-spanning set.
For this tour the New Pornographers are promoting their new album Whiteout Conditions – their first in three years and also their first without longtime member Dan Bejar. While Bejar’s absence is certainly disappointing to many fans, those at the Wonder Ballroom were still eager to hear the group perform their new material. They wasted no time getting to the new stuff, opening with the Devo-esque “High Ticket Attractions”. Older material would be played too, with the equally catchy combo of “The Laws Have Changed” and “Use It” demonstrating the harmony-driven power pop that the Pornographers do best. New songs “Colosseums”, “Whiteout Conditions”, and “This Is The World Of The Theater” veered in a different direction with more art punk and new wave sounds than power pop. While the new songs seemed to inspire plenty of head bobbing from the audience, it was the longtime favorites that kept the momentum going and spirits high. Tunes like “Testament to Youth in Reverse”, “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk”, and the exuberant “Mass Romantic” all captured the special dynamic of how this band has lasted so long. Even without Dan Bejar, it’s still safe to call the New Pornographers something of a supergroup. The beauty of seeing them perform on Sunday only reaffirmed that when they are together, they function as one large, tightly knit unit without letting egos get in the way.
By the end of the set, the members of the band seemed as pleased with their performance as the audience. They quickly returned for a triple encore that would include the live debut of new song “We’ve Been Here Before” – easily one of the strongest tracks on Whiteout Conditions – before the blissful one-two punch of “Brill Bruisers” and “The Bleeding Heart Show”, the latter of which sent the audience off into the night with the infection sing along chorus of “hey la hey la”. Though the new album has drawn mixed reviews, those who caught the New Pornographers in Portland on Sunday left humming and smiling with the joy that such a talented band is still going strong.