The New Pornographers @ The Workshop, Adelaide 1/3/2020

The New Pornographers are only the third band to play this relatively new Adelaide Festival venue The Workshop following on from the Parov Stelar band and the Shaolin Afronauts over the past couple of nights. In contrast to the open air Riverbank Palais pontoon that has been the venue for live concerts in previous years, this sizeable black box has issues with relation to poor air-conditioning and the bottleneck of the audiences leaving but hopefully these are teething issues that will be resolved as the concert program continues.

When the band arrive onstage it comes to mind that they are the archetype of a late night TV show alternative musical guest in that they are larger than traditional bands with seven members, they have an enthusiastic fan base, and they probably sell more tee’s than CDs (incidentally, there were only Tees and LPs on sale at the merch desk). 

During the hour and a half plus set that they play tonight there is a generous selection of material with at least two songs played per each of their eight albums with co-leads Carl Newman and Neko Case either alternating on lead vocals or singing together well along with the rest of the band on backing vocals to varying degrees.

On this tour and for tonight’s appearance the rest the band includes Todd Fancey on guitar, Simi Stone contributing vocals, violin (and latterly interpretive dancing), Kathryn Calder on keyboards and Joe Seiders on drums. Some of the songs that stand out with distinct identifying features are You’ll Need A Backseat Driver that has some endearing percussion by Simi, and the crunching rock’n’pop guitar on Dancehall Domine.

On The Bones Of An Idol Joe plays melodica before being joined by the Simi violin and Todd on slide guitar performing some kind of solo interplay. Colossus of Rhodes has some bouncing bubblegum guitar solos and High Beams could fit easily into the musical genre affectionately termed yacht rock. A mid set highlight is Dreamlike And On The Rush which starts like an alt folk interlude with just Carl and Kathryn until the rest of the band join in and transform it into alt rock.

It is not until halfway through their set, ten sings in following the well-received The Laws Have Changed that Neko and Carl take time out to actually address the audience, Neko acknowledging the “long time since we’ve been here” (although she has toured regularly, the band haven’t been here since 2010). Carl does a makeshift public service announcement discouraging the use of the F-word but adds that it’s okay to use it in song. A little later, Neko, who has at times appeared distracted, asks the audience to stop taking photos “because it’s creepy”. Carl even goes so far as to suggest the audience don’t even look at them but turn away to observe the display of fake animals decorating The Workshop that he describes as “God’s creation”.

The band are not at all talkative again until much later when they return prior to an encore that begins with Challengers. Neko takes a moment to praise Adelaide, a city they have played during each of their four tours. The set ends with Brill Bruisers then an appropriately tilted closing song in The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism.

Adelaide Festival Review By Jason Leigh

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