New Pornographers / July 4 / New York (Hudson River Park)
Nothing says "Happy Birthday, America" like celebrating with some of indie rock's most beloved free-health-care-toting neighbors from up North. Yes, this year's River to River July 4 performance at NeNothing says "Happy Birthday, America" like celebrating with some of indie rock's most beloved free-health-care-toting neighbors from up North. Yes, this year's River to River July 4 performance at New York's Battery Park was headlined by Canadian collective the New Pornographers, who, with an almost fully charged lineup on board (Neko Case was accounted for, but Destroyer's Dan Bejar was still M.I.A.), previewed a handful of new tunes as well as old favorites.
Having slowly moved away from its slick power pop beginnings, the group's upcoming release "Challengers," due Aug. 21 via Matador, is its most subdued effort to date. Translated in a live setting, the new songs brought with them more dimension and texture, implementing flute, French horn and strings to help recreate the album's sound. That said, it was clear the songs don't quite have the same finish as older material just yet, and there are a few kinks that need to be worked out in order to create a full, cohesive presentation.
Nonetheless, the new material is rather promising, particularly the cello-laced "All the Old Showstoppers," the bright and hook-heavy "Mutiny, I Promise You" and two Case-helmed slower numbers: the album's stripped-down, acoustic title track and the soaring "Go Places."
And it was Case who truly stole the show, her distinct, powerful vocals shining over group principal Carl Newman as well as Kathryn Calder, who serves as Case's replacement when she's absent.
The band hit most of the highlights from its first two albums, 2000's "Mass Romantic" and 2003's "Electric Version," including the former's swaggering title track and "The Slow Descent into Alcoholism," as well as the polished "The Laws Have Changed" and "Testament To Youth in Verse."
But the afternoon's best moments came when the band rolled through songs from 2005's "Twin Cinema." The vibrant and rollicking "Sing Me Spanish Techno" had the crowd up and moving, and the slow-building "Bleeding Heart Show" was a gorgeous main set closer.
One minor grievance: the weather. It was abnormally chilly, and a rain shower started up halfway through the set. Fortunately it wasn't quite a downpour, and the high-spirited energy of a New Pornographers show was enough to make even the grayest skies seem a little brighter.
Here is the New Pornographers' set list:
"All the Things That Go To Make Heaven and Earth"
"The Laws Have Changed"
"All the Old Showstoppers"
"Jackie, Dressed in Cobras"
"The Spirit of Giving"
"From Blown Speakers"
"My Rights Versus Yours"
"The Jessica Numbers"
"Mutiny, I Promise You"
"Sing Me Spanish Techno"
"The Bleeding Heart Show"
"These Are the Fables"
"Testament To Youth in Verse"
"The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism"