The New Pornographers (photo: Patric Carver)
What is the deal with The New Pornographers? Are they, like the proverbial goldfish that grows to fit the size of its tank, going to continue to expand in both musicianship and creativity forever and ever? Not to mention their sheer numbers? Starting off as a six-piece and now up to an eight-piece with Dan Bejar waiting in the wings as a “former (possibly future) member,” I imagine that the personnel roster of The Pornographers is eventually going to read like the listing off of some fundamentalist Christian family’s offspring, adding a new one to the brood each couple of years.
However, unlike most outfits in which there are so many on the stage, The Pornographers are not using quantity as a substitute for quality. Their recent show at The Fillmore was one of the best I’ve ever attended. Playing to a sold-out crowd, The Pornographers are on tour promoting their new album In the Morse Code of Brake Lights. Though this album does not rock as hard as some of their previous releases (Twin Cinema, it ain’t), it provides another layer to the New Pornographer onion, one that’s a little less pungent but never-the-less interesting and flavorful.
A third of the Fillmore set was from Morse Code with “Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile” kicking off the show. “Smile” is a great song – it’s catchy without being predictable. “Colossus of Rhodes” was another highlight, with it’s jogging undercurrents that sweep through the song.
However, the gems of the show were from deeper in The Pornographers’ history. Few bands that have the rich catalog that The Pornographers do are as generous with their song selections, but I guess it’s true what they say about Canadians. They really are that nice.
I would have felt fortunate to hear “Challengers” or “Sing Me Spanish Techno” or “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” or “All the Old Showstoppers” or “Brill Bruisers.”
Instead, I left feeling downright spoiled because they played them all, and they did it really, really well.
“The Laws Have Changed” was probably the pinnacle for me. Every member of the band was absolutely radiant during that song.
It was a show I’ll remember the details of for a long time. It was an experience.
I will say that opening act Diane Coffee was the perfect warm-up for The Pornographers. In the same way that The Pornographers have created a beautifully swollen sound that surrounds their listeners with all things good about pop music, Coffee and company were delightfully tuned into the soul of rock. Appearing in a careful construction of glam rock meets old school, lead vocalist Coffee wore dramatic makeup and a golden suit while the backing band appeared wore traditional black tie. It was as if there was a time machine that picked up the band in the 50s, stopped off in the 70s for Coffee, and then spat them out together at the modern-day Fillmore.
Honestly, though, they could have been wearing trash bags with twine belts, since their solid sound overshadowed the visual appeal of the band anyhow. (Don’t get me wrong – I was a big fan of the visuals, too.)
Coffee, the alter-ego of Disney voice actor Shaun Fleming, has a singing voice that is a wonderful mix of the huskiness of Eddie Money with the seduction factor of Rod Stewart. Their songs were fun, but not funny – they really rocked.
Personally, I think the ghosts of rock gods past that haunt the sacred spaces of The Fillmore were thrilled with both acts that night. Their offerings were worthy of joining the layers of sonic history that launch infinitely into space from that famous stage. It’s nice when people earn their immortality that way.