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Sometimes fun comes at the expense of comfort. Take high heels, for instance. Or roller coasters. Or eating a lot of pie. Or aspects of my weekend.

On Sunday, Wouter and I went to see The New Pornographers play at Melkweg. The show was in the Oude Zaal (the Old Hall) which is the smallest hall at Melkweg. Rad, right? To see such an awesome, popular, rockin band in a venue so small that it is physically impossible to be more than 30 meters (yards, whatever) from the band? And the show wasn’t even sold out!? What’s wrong with the Amsterdamers that they don’t know genius when it’s playing live in their own city? And in a teeny tiny venue to boot?? They sounded fantastic. And they passed the Wooter Test, which is saying something as I had given him very little audio-preparation for this show.

The New Pornographers1

All of this said, there were some disappointments. No Neko Case. Big¬†disappointment. (They played Madison, WI a few years ago without her too. I guess unless I manage to see a show in NYC or something, it’s too much to hope for that I’d see her play with the band.) Kathryn Calder stepped up to sing the female leads. She was very good, but still… sad face. They also picked up an extra female vocalist for backing (one who vaguely resembled Case– odd). Let me just add extra emphasis here: they needed two women to even get close to the sound that Case makes. Someday I’ll see her live, someday.

Despite their animated, pop sound, I was surprised to find that the band member are not very lively on stage. Maybe they were having an off night, but it was strange and awkward. Apart from some cute stories from Calder about living in the Netherlands as a toddler, there was barely any chatter between songs– no commentary, no thank yous, no “this next song is.” Sometimes they even turned their backs on the audience. This didn’t come off as overtly rude– more like they were extremely uncomfortable on stage. The audience tried to cheer them up with woos and whistles, but to no avail. It was so bizarre: the high energy music juxtaposed with such incredible shyness.

The New Pornographers2

Things got notably worse 2/3 of the way through the show when the bassist broke a string. And apparently they didn’t bring any spares. And the opening band was no where to be found to offer up an extra bass (off exploring the coffee shops of Leidseplein, perhaps?). And it was as if this had never happened before! They all just looked at each other like… ‘Ummmm? What do we do now?’ Eventually and reluctantly they started playing again, short one bass string, and honestly it sounded fine. Great even! But the band didn’t look convinced.

As I said, overall the music was fantastic but the vibe of the show was confusing.

I assume they’ve continued to make music together for all of these years because they enjoy it. And their music is so much fun to listen to! (See below!) So it must be fun to make, right? And yet, as far as I could tell from Sunday’s performance, stage fright, awkwardness in the spotlight ¬†and (jet lag-induced?) shyness runs rampant among the New Pornographers.

FOLLOW UP: I’ve done a little internet sleuthing and it seems to be a coin flip of whether you get a tight, high energy performance or a phoned in, day at the office sort of show. Indeed, when it’s “another day at the office,” reviewers echo my confusion over the disjunct between the band’s sound and their stage presence. But, no matter the energy, the overwhelming consensus is that the music is always outstanding! Agreed.

So now I’ll leave you with one last example of fun at the expense of comfort: apparently standing for several hours at the show was enough to set my knee back again. So much of this reporting was done from the couch on Monday. Still, the couch was comfortable, the show was worth it and by Tuesday I had mostly recovered! Woo!

The New Pornographers3

PS: Can someone teach me how to take better concert photos? These are so terrible! I guess a first step would be to get closer to the stage. And shoot with a reasonable camera. And ask the lights guy to bring up the lights a little, heh.

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