Last night The New Pornographers played to hundreds of adoring, seemingly Porno-addicted fans at the Bowery Ballroom to celebrate the release of their new disc, Challengers, which hit stores yesterday. The show, which was announced last week and sold out in a matter of minutes, got underway shortly after 10 o’clock and didn’t end until midnight, thanks in part to two double-song encores (and lots of stage banter).
A.C. Newman, the de facto leader of what is invariably described as Canada’s power-pop supergroup, led the 10-piece band (sans Dan Bejar, but with a string/accordion/horn section) through a set that got off to a stumble and proceeded in fits-and-starts. The night featured almost all of the songs from Challengers interspersed with past New Porno faves, including a lot of Twin Cinema material, as well as the older “Slow Descent Into Alcoholism” and much-requested “The Last Occupant.” The new tunes were just as enthusiastically received as the older ones, although the latter triggered more look-at-me lip-syncing and “Pretty In Pink” dance moves.
The vibe in the room was electric, if not altogether ebullient, and it was hard to tell who was having more fun, the crowd or the band. Newman took time in between songs to chat up the audience, telling indie-rock-themed anecdotes and enjoining “Strange Brew” quotes (his favorite: “I have to pee so bad I can taste it.”). Even Neko Case, who was visibly disgruntled with her monitors throughout most of the show, finally caved in and acted like she was having a good time by the end.
The night reminded me of something that was said to me earlier in the day. I had spent the afternoon with Josh Ritter, who also released an album yesterday that’s getting as much praise as Challengers. He spoke of music being a “cultural watering hole,” one of the last places we can gather to quench a certain thirst. In an increasingly fragmented society, concerts have a unique way of satisfying a craving that we have to share an abstract experience. I watched the crowd file out onto Delancey Street after the show with smiles on their faces. It looked like their thirsts had been undoubtedly quenched.