The New Pornographers w/ The Dodos and Imaad Wasif
The Fox Theater (Oakland, CA)
July 18, 2010
Everything was going perfectly according to plan— until they started singing. From the moment Dodos frontman Meric Long first spoke into the microphone, people in the audience perplexedly tilted their head à la a Jack Russell terrier, looked at the speakers overhead, and then back to Long. The vocals were muffled and distant, making even music-free banter between songs almost inaudible. His words were nearly completely indiscernible. The audience clearly was missing most everything that was said or sung, so why wasn’t the Fox Theater sound crew even attempting to fix this obvious problem?
After a 43-year period of inactivity, the Fox Theater reopened in early 2009, and by all appearances is one of the premiere venues in the Bay Area. Yet for all its interior beauty, the theater has continued to have problems with perfecting their sound quality, which is a real shame when two class acts like The New Pornographers and The Dodos are playing on the same night. But as percussive elements rule The Dodos’ live performances, and as this was also a primarily New Pornographers crowd, no one in the audience raised a public fuss during the local band’s set. The Dodos stuck mostly to songs from their touchstone album Visiter, a smart move that capitalized on their natural energy and instrumental rawness. Acoustic guitar, drums and vibraphone, played at full force, were all they needed to at the very least sustain the interest of an older, geekier crowd than they normally see. The band soldiered on, with songs like “Fools” and “Jodi” surging into cathartic releases and serving as reminders of how percussion can wonderfully dominate when laid out loud and bare.
People stopped shrugging off the vocal clarity debacle when The New Pornographers took the stage, as after each of the first four songs, numerous people in the audience pleaded, “More vocals!” The sound team mercifully fixed the problem following an incredibly flat “Crash Years” stunted Neko Case’s usually harrowing voice, which finally allowed all eight New Pornographers to explode into their power-pop gems. Carl Newman’s man-child lisp was as charming as ever, taking the lead on pulsing singles “Twin Cinema” and “Use It.” Neko Case regained her entrancing form with “My Shepherd,” which undoubtedly melted most hearts and gave foolhardy hope to every mid-thirties techie who cried out to her with desperation after each song.
Even with these two highly acclaimed individuals at the helm, The New Pornographers on Sunday night belonged to Dan Bejar (also of Destroyer and Swan Lake fame). That someone as gifted a songwriter as Bejar demanded the respect of every audience member is no surprise; what was a surprise was Bejar maintaining unrelenting command despite his extraordinarily aloof on-stage behavior. Bejar was only physically present for around three out of every five songs, emerging each time from off-stage with a fresh Dos Equis in hand. He was the kid who threw a tantrum to his parents before dinner guests arrived, was threatened by said parents not to misbehave in front of their company, and who eventually dragged his feet to the table to the delight of the amused guests. When Bejar finally made it back on stage for the third and final encore song, drummer Kurt Dahle quipped “Thanks for coming,” which Dan Bejar acknowledged with a wry grin. Nevertheless, Bejar’s “Jackie,” “Execution Day,” and “Testament to Youth in Reverse” comprised three of the best songs in the twenty-three song show, capping off an initially frustrating but ultimately sharp live performance.
-- Scott Lensing