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CMJ ’05: New Pornographers

Man, being Canadian must be awesome. First there’s the free healthcare. Then there’s comedic brethren like John Candy and Dan Aykroyd to call your countrymen. Finally, it seems that when you’re Canadian, you take the best parts of both (socialism and humor), make it into an orchestral mélange, and call it a rock band. The New Pornographers have been doing this for years, and alongside fellow Canadians the Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene they’re on the brink of creating a sprawling, collective musical movement.

Last night’s CMJ show at the Bowery Ballroom showed the New Pornographers’ true collective spirit — they brought members of the band on stage who weren’t even on tour with them — fresh from the audience. They kicked off their rousing set with the eponymous first track of their latest album Twin Cinema in such perfect, synchronized form that it was almost a bit soulless. The song sounded exactly as it does recorded, and the band wore identical, somewhat bored expressions.

With banter courtesy of both lead singer A.C. Newman and drummer Kurt Dahle, the New Pornographers rolled rather easily through the first two-thirds of the set, playing favorites from all three of the band’s releases — including “The Fake Headlines” from Mass Romantic, “The Laws Have Changed,” from The Electric Version, and “Sing Me Spanish Techno” from Twin Cinema. The highlight of the early part of the set was the lucid voice of touring keyboardist and vocalist Kathryn Calder, who takes the place of the absent Neko Case. Things only became slightly difficult, and far more interesting, when the New Pornographers hit a snag.

At around 7:50 pm, Newman told the audience, “We were going to play two more songs, but I think we have until 8:30.” Newman briefly considered “kicking it Grateful Dead style,” with a prolonged jam, but instead decided to do a Cars’ cover, after being lightly cajoled by drummer Dahle. The New Pornos barreled through “My Best Friend’s Girl” to the delight of the band and the crowd. For the first time all night, the ironically detached Pornos cracked wide grins and actually looked like they were having a good time. Newman even gave a shout-out to the Arcade Fire, saying, “The Arcade Fire is just too good.” How’s that for Canadian love?

For the last song of the set, a far more relaxed and gregarious band brought on cooperative, non-touring Pornographer Dan Bejar, beer in hand, to join the band. He had already graced the stage briefly to sing “Streets of Fire,” one of the songs he co-wrote for Twin Cinema. The New Pornographers managed to shed their too-cool-for-school-ness to rock a fairly impressive CMJ set, and, in true Canadian form, they were done just in time for Hockey Night.