Vancouver’s The New Pornographers — a sometimes seven-person, coed collective that has so far created three CDs of masterful, propulsive power pop tinged with psychedelia — manages to produce a remarkably cohesive live sound while not mustering much of an on-stage persona beyond their stellar tunes.
Anchored by alt-country belter Neko Case and singer-songwriters A.C. Newman and Dan Bejar, the Pornos are technically still a side project for a cadre of Canadian rockers you wish weren’t so distracted by their solo endeavors. When the band’s key players all show up — as they did Oct. 12 promoting their latest effort, the more slick-sounding “Twin Cinema” (Matador/Mint) — Newman’s vanilla Mike Love vocals blend with Bejar’s insistent whine and Case’s soulful bellowing to make the hair on the back of the most hardened music nerd’s neck stand up.
Outside of its core troika — and frenetic drummer Kurt Dahle — the rest of the Pornos make about as much impact live as the faceless, rented yeomen who beef up Green Day or R.E.M.’s sound on tour. It’s astonishing a band that seems so disparate on stage visually can sound so singularly sonically unified.
When Newman commented that Case’s flowing, yellow tulle gown looked like something in Stevie Nicks’ closet, drummer Dahle — who served as the night’s class clown, eating pizza and smoking behind his kit — launched the Pornos into a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” a spellbinding showcase for Case’s voice.
The band’s sharp, danceable hooks, combined with lyrics that can turn as surreal as any in the Guided By Voices catalogue, kept the music from ever approaching earnest. Both Newman and Bejar — who penned just three tracks on “Twin Cinema” — mix the grandiose with everyday imagery, peppered with vague sexual innuendo, to make songs alternately creepy, sunny and exhilarating.
The Pornos may be hippies at heart, but they’re also cynics. “Heads down/ Thumbs up/Two sips from the cup of human kindness/And I’m shitfaced/Laid to waste,” sang Newman, who kicked off the show with the herky-jerky title track from “Twin Cinema” by upping the song’s tempo to give it needed swagger.