all words: Erin Holmes
all photos: Julia Benton
For once, we really can’t blame Canada! Ontario’s Tokyo Police Club and Vancouver’s The New Pornographers joined forces on Sunday night at the 9:30 Club, where concert-goers got their money’ s worth (and then some) with two-and-a-half hours of hand-clapping, foot-stomping, head-bopping pop rock. These bands produced a mixed audience— younger die-hard Tokyo Police Club fans stood alongside veteran New Pornographers fans— none of whom could have possibly left disappointed.
Tokyo Police Club broke the rock ‘n roll stereotype with hot tea and a hockey player action figure set up amongst their instruments on stage, but didn’t waste any time setting the tone for the evening by starting off with the upbeat “ Favourite Colour” from their newest album Champ. Half of their set list actually came from this 2010 album, allowing songs such as “Hands Reversed”, “End of a Spark”, and the Strokes-like “Wait Up (Boots of Danger)” to showcase their well-crafted, maturing sound of racing guitars, expeditious keyboarding, and soaring melodies.
But TPC still brought their older irresistible hits and childish, playful enthusiasm: drummer Greg Alsop tossed his drum sticks up into the air and chewed his tongue as he played; singer and bassist Dave Monks requested the crowd put down their drinks in order to participate and clap during songs like “Tessellate,” the recognizable and infectious single from 2008’s Elephant Shell (“Beer-clapping is not allowed!” Monks urged); guitarist Josh Hook and keyboardist Graham Wright executed a perfectly rehearsed tambourine toss across the stage during the exhilarating finale “Your English is Good,” also from Elephant Shell.
Their continuous energy, youthful stage presence and quintessential, thrift store aesthetics secured their place as a crowd-pleasing opening act. As they shouted the lyrics “Give us your vote!” on “Your English,” the crowd definitely would have, and after a strong twelve-song performance, Tokyo Police Club fans— those in the crowd who were singing every word and bopping around feverishly— could have left satisfied.
Enter the main act: The New Pornographers. Seven extremely talented, respected musicians and musical artists (eight if you include their guest Ben Kalb, who played cello and saxophone for selected pieces) truly came together on each song to create a full sound and rich blend of pop, folk, and rock. Some may wonder if a group like this presents a clash of egos, especially since all of the band members work on other group or solo projects, including Carl Newman (solo as “A.C. Newman”), Neko Case (fresh from her recent solo cred), and Kathryn Calder (Newman’s niece who has become a staple member of the group and put forth a solo effort this year). Lucky for us, the experienced NP’s have perfected a balance where they can emblazon and complement each other’s strengths; each member contributes something to every song and finds a way of garnering his or her own attention on stage.
Like Tokyo Police Club, The New Pornographers released an album this year— appropriately- titled Together— and dedicated much of Sunday’s show to their new efforts. It’s safe to say that NP fans have embraced the songs from Together and some have already become concert essentials: as Neko Case crooned the breakout tune “ Crash Years”, Newman and Calder whistled in a precise unison; Newman joked about how difficult it is to clap along to the high-energy “ Your Hands (Together)”; Calder put the “sweet” in “ Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk”, every head nodded along to the vivacious “ Moves” and “ We End Up Together”, and every toe tapped to the steady beat of “Up in the Dark”.
But it is likely fans will mostly remember the older hits and cheeky moments between the band members (again similar to Tokyo Police Club’s performance). The New Pornographers paid tribute to their decade-long songbook by excelling at what have become live favorites, such as the opener “Twin Cinema” and onward with “ The Laws Have Changed”, “ All the Old Showstoppers”, “ The Body Says No”, “Testament to Youth In Verse”, “Mass Romantic”, “ Use It”, “ July Jones”, and “ The Bleeding Heart Show.” Other treats were the slower yet still electrifying “Challengers,” “ Stacked Crooked,” “ My Rights Versus Yours,” “Adventures in Solitude,” and “Go Places,” illustrating the musicianship of the group and the dynamic voices of Newman, Case, and Calder. They left no stone unturned with a twenty-three-song set list, a testament to not only their stamina as performers but also their legacy as songwriters and artists who have produced a substantial amount of quality music.
The cool part? They were humble and happy to be here. When someone in the crowd yelled out “WE LOVE YOU,” Newman made it a point to respond with an “I love you, too!” and a personalized “This is the third time we’ve been here this year!” At one point, Calder walked over and leaned down closer to hear a fan in the front row, then blew kisses of thanks to the crowd. It was evident the NP’ s enjoyed themselves. The entire band comfortably bantered with each other between songs (one particular rant between Case and Newman about Marilyn Manson and “finger-banging” prompted Calder to request they go “ straight into the next song” afterwards). Band members (Calder, mostly) also noticeably danced, clapped, and stomped along to the songs to the point where their energy was contagious. And although Neko Case tried to pull her beautiful big red hair off her face multiple times, it always found a way to stay untamed and fabulous.
The consistency of Tokyo Police Club’ s set that continued through the NP’s seemed like a continuous dose of high-powered-pop, and the New Pornographers’ two-song encore summed up the night well: when they got to the chorus of “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” where they passionately sing the words “Listening too long, to one song,” it felt like they were referring to the music of the evening and that it had to end. And when they bellowed, “The song, the song, the song has shaken me” on “Letter From An Occupant” — Neko Case brought the house down on this last song of the night— it seemed almost self-referential to the shaking energy of the entire night’ s playlist.
Both Tokyo Police Club and the New Pornographers played many songs from their new albums, but made sure they ended with their classic crowd-pleasers. And pleased the crowd they did. So a big thank you to Canada for hockey, Ryan Reynolds, maple syrup, the BlackBerry, Tokyo Police Club and The New Pornographers.