Who was it who said that 90 percent of success in life is showing up? Was that Woody Guthrie? Allen Ginsberg? Vince Lombardi? Brian Eno? T-Pain? It was somebody smart, and he or she was almost certainly discussing a concert by The New Pornographers, Canada's pop musical Justice League whose legend far eclipses that of any of its individual superheroes (with the eternal exception of the exceptional alt-country chanteuse Neko Case). When the group can field its complete nine-strong roster -- a feat they haven't always managed when playing Our Nation's Capitol -- the results are seldom less then splendid.
The two-night 9:30 Club stand they kicked off last night was their first since the release of Together, their characteristically overstuffed fifth album, and the first since Newman told Pitchfork last month that DC is his favorite city to play. It was an utterly unremarkable, perfect-band-attendance NP gig, which is to say, an effervescent hoot. There were few surprises, unless you'd expected to hear more than seven-twelfths of the new record. Nobody threw anything at Newman (he was struck by flying CD onstage in Boston last week), and Case did not summon the assailant to the stage, in gloriously family-unfriendly language, for a disciplinary beating. It was just a two-hour, two-dozen song hopscotch through the band's highly infectious songbook, wherein strong new cuts like "Up in the Dark" and "Crash Years" easily claimed their place among staples like opener "Sing Me Spanish Techno" and the seminal two-fer of "The Slow Descent into Alcoholism" and "Letter to an Occupant" performed during the encore set.
When Newman recalled playing the 9:30 in the mid-90s as an opener for Guided by Voices and contemplating the long odds of ever graduating to headliner status, it was genuinely moving. When he observed that Canada esposes the virtues of "libertie, fraternitie, and heavy petting," expat hearts swelled with pride. When he dropped a reference to the 1984 cult sci-fi comedy The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, 'twas genuinely baffling to "almost all of you." And when the hard-harmonizing trio of Case, Newman, and Kathryn Calder alighted on those widescreen choruses that Newman seems to be able to write while brushing his teeth, you had to imagine that even Dan Bejar -- the group's unsmiling, unspeaking second frontman, who kept himself hidden when he wasn't singing one of his own (he did five, including the closing "Testament to Youth in Verse") -- was fighting the urge to sing along. Or possibly to kill us all. One of those.
The New Pornographers at the 9:30 Club, Tuesday, June 22, 2010
01 Sing Me Spanish Techno 02 Up in the Dark 03 Myriad Harbour 04 Use It 05 Crash Years 06 All the Old Showstoppers 07 Jackie, Dressed in Cobras 08 Adventures in Solitude 09 It's Only Divine Right 10 Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk 11 Challengers 12 We End Up Together 13 Execution Day 14 Go Places 15 Moves 16 Your Hands (Together) 17 These Are the Fables 18 The Laws Have Changed 19 Silver Jenny Dollar 20 Mass Romantic 21 The Bleeding Heart Show
22 The Slow Descent into Alcoholism 23 Letter to an Occupant 24 Testament to Youth in Verse
I also reviewed a New Pornographers show at the 9:30 in October 2007.