The New Pornographers Deliver the Party

Photo by Benjamin Wick. Frontman A.C. Newman described The New Pornographers new album, the thundering euphoric pop of Brill Bruisers, as “a celebration record.” After a string of downers, this latest effort certainly finds the indie-rock supergroup (Newman, Neko Case and Destroyer’s Dan Bejar) back in party mode. The eponymous opening track bursts with a chorus of “bo-ba bo-ba-ba-bo” and feels inherently lofty behind its glitzy synthesizer. That’s where the mammoth eight-piece band started at a packed Pabst Theater house last night and never relinquished control of that high-spirited mood. An opening set from The Pains of Being Pure at…


Photo by Benjamin Wick.

Frontman A.C. Newman described The New Pornographers new album, the thundering euphoric pop of Brill Bruisers, as “a celebration record.” After a string of downers, this latest effort certainly finds the indie-rock supergroup (Newman, Neko Case and Destroyer’s Dan Bejar) back in party mode. The eponymous opening track bursts with a chorus of “bo-ba bo-ba-ba-bo” and feels inherently lofty behind its glitzy synthesizer. That’s where the mammoth eight-piece band started at a packed Pabst Theater house last night and never relinquished control of that high-spirited mood.

An opening set from The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and its Brooklyn-by-way-of-Wisconsin guitarist and singer Kip Berman brought a different kind of party to the seated audience. But the youthful, fuzzed-out pop didn’t seem to play particularly well to the older indie-rock crowd who perhaps grew up listening to the ‘90s bands that The Pains of Being Pure at Heart lovingly emulated. It didn’t help that the four-piece looked uncomfortable onstage, perhaps due to feeling cramped from the headliner’s encroaching set-up or the fact that the band recently went through a personnel overhaul—Berman remains the only original member from 2009’s self-titled debut. By the end of the set, it was clear that a slight venue change would’ve worked wonders. Case in point: Berman and company repeating “We will never die” carries a much different meaning when sung to a younger, drunker Mad Planet crowd at 1 a.m. than it does opening for graying indie-rock superstars at 8:30 p.m. in a luxurious theater.

If The Pains of Being Pure at Heart recalled a skuzzy, college basement kegger, The New Pornographers were reminiscent of a swanky cocktail party in a condo that quickly devolves into nostalgic drinking games and shotgunning beers. The band delivered some five-star harmonies between Newman, Case, Bejar and Kathryn Calder that played off each singer’s distinct voice and blistered through scores and scores of power pop anthems. The new cuts fit in smoothly with the crowd pleasers “Mass Romantic,” “The Bleeding Heart Show” and “Slow Descent.”

In one of the brief breaks, Newman remembered the group’s last tour through the city, where Jesse Lortz from opener The Dutchess & The Duke played quite the party animal, removing his shirt and filtering through the crowd. While those physical shenanigans were absent this time around, The New Pornographers delivered that same sentiment musically, through its raucous, neon-tinged atmosphere. All that was missing were some streamers, some balloons and maybe some cake. But it looks like that last one was covered.

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Kevin is a freelance writer residing in Milwaukee. He’s contributed to The Shepherd Express, Third Coast Daily, Pop Matters and the sadly now-defunct A.V. Club Milwaukee. He looks forward to forging a deeper connection with the city’s impressive music scene during his gig as a Music Notes blogger. His talents include music criticism, riding a bicycle, drinking tasty beers and a crafty croquet swing. His weaknesses comprise Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, professional wrestling and his ever-growing record collection. He’s in desperate need to find more physical (and hard drive) space for the exceptional albums Milwaukee musicians keep churning out.