While it would seem logical that two bands is always better than one, that’s not always the case when you get an odd pairing or a lacking opening act. Hence, the double touring bill of the Walkmen and the New Pornographers holds so much appeal. While not exactly birds of the same feather, they would seem to be two tastes that go great together (to mix metaphors and unintentionally rhyme) and worth the two-hour drive south from Columbus.
Openers the Walkmen were their usual, dapper, rugged selves. I’m no longer surprised that they get better every time I see them, and this time around I was most impressed by singer Hamilton Leithauser. He reaches for a shocking number of high notes and hits most of them out of the park. I think his voice is actually still getting stronger. “In the New Year,” the best track off their You & Me LP, was the highlight, and the whole band fell in line behind Leithauser’s forceful delivery.
So, on to the headliners for the night. Let’s start by noting that Dan Bejar did not appear, so a whole slew of the band’s best material was seemingly off the table. However, Neko Case was there, so all her 50 year-old stalkers were happy. Anyway, the soundman at Bogart’s took an awfully kong time to adjust to the New Pornographers exuberant power-pop shuffle. “Moves,” the opener from their most recent release, Together, kicked things off with joyful energy, but the groundlings crowed their displeasure until the band took note and attempted to remedy the situation.
The set leaned heavily on Twin Cinema including the title track and “The Bleeding Heart Show.” The band really found its groove on the latter, or maybe it was just the soundman’s best work. Either way, that was a highlight, but even that was outdone by the dramatic rise of the absent Bejar’s Twin Cinema contribution, “Jackie, Dressed in Cobras.”
The truth is Carl Newman is a very mild-mannered frontman and that can be a bit of a problem if you expect him to be as fun as his music. Despite the band’s ceaseless riffs and seven-layered vocals, his efforts to engage the audience didn’t go much beyond declining the crowd’s requests. When Neko occasionally took the lead, the audience welcomed the emotional resonance she brought to the proceedings. The off-kilter energy that Bejar brings was sorely missed, but even one man down, the New Pornographers execute a breezy, Canadian anthem better than most.