The New Pornographers with Okkervil River
Concert date: 04/16/2008
Run date: 04/23/2008
Is it possible to make Neko Case and The New Pornographers more endearing to the indie crowd? Apparently so, but it involves either saving Washington D.C. with a roundhouse kick or a pipe-wielding Chan Marshall. We don’t have the whole story just yet.
The red-haired singer with the powerhouse voice is (or was, until recently) touring with her compatriots in the Pornographers this spring, still in support of their latest album, Challengers, which came out in August of last year. At Toad’s Place, a Richmond venue so new there’s still scaffolding on the outside of the building, Case hobbled out on crutches to a stool with her lower leg encased in thick bandages. Singer and songwriter A.C. Newman waited until the band had the crowd moving with high-energy versions of “My Rights Versus Yours,” “Stacked Crooked,” “These Are the Fables” and “All the Old Showstoppers” before having some fun with an apparently cheerful Case. (Her only complaint during the night was that her butt was falling asleep). They traded quips about the injury, which Case attributed to some high-flying martial arts maneuvers during the band’s back-to-back shows in D.C., and Newman blamed on the artist known as Cat Power attacking Case with a lead pipe ala Kerrigan and Harding.
“Okkervil River were supposed to act as her footmen, carrying her on and off stage,” Newman said. (Sadly, Pitchforkmedia.com is reporting that the injury, actually caused by a fall after one of the Washington shows, got so painful Case had to leave the tour. Thank your lucky stars, Richmond.)
You’d think having one of your lead singers on a stool for the whole show would bring things down, but the Porns have never been a band that moves around a lot. They leave that to the crowd. The Pornographers’ music has a tendency to make your feet move, your head shake and your lips grin, and there were not many stationary people in Toad’s Place that night, I can attest from the elbows I took to the back. It’s a small price to pay for joyful highlights such as “Use It,” “The Laws Have Changed,” “Mass Romantic,” “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” “The Bleeding Heart Show” and “Testament to Youth in Verse.” The band took things to another level for the encore. Case, who wisely elected to stay onstage instead of hopping back and forth, claimed that she didn’t know if her bandmates would return. “You gotta make ‘em want it,” she said.
Of course, they came back. After some discussion, they broke out a cover of Electric Light Orchestra’s “Don’t Bring Me Down,” a perfect choice for them and for us, then treated the crowd to “July Jones” and a great “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism” to end the night.
Okkervil River may not have waited on Ms. Case hand and foot, but they were one of the hardest-working opening bands I’ve ever seen. Actually, the show could have been thought of as almost a double bill, considering the love out there for Okkervil River. The Austin group are somewhere in the My Morning Jacket/Band of Horses/Ryan Adams orbit, and their shambling but majestic sound owes something to The Band as well. They showed themselves plenty worthy of adoration, even if some in the crowd insisted on talking throughout the show. Singer Will Shef handled it just right, breaking out the hushed “A Stone” and telling the crowd “this is a quiet one, we want to hear what you’re saying.” Then they proceeded to rock the hell out of selections from last year’s The Stage Names album, including “John Allyn Smith Sails,” seamlessly incorporating The Beach Boy’s “Sloop John B.” That seemed to shut everyone up.
If Okkervil River ended on a defiant note, then the New Pornographers sent everyone into the night with buzzing ears, smiling faces and Case’s final words: “We’ll be back, because you’re nice.”
Aw. Get better, Neko.