THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS with OPERATORS at the Danforth Music Hall, Thursday, February 5. Rating: NNN
With little fanfare, Operators unleashed their synth-heavy electronic punk on a growing crowd at the Danforth Music Hall.
“It’s my motherfucking birthday,” said Dan Boeckner, before keyboardist Devojka led the crowd in an enthusiastic Happy Birthday. Boeckner then told us that his dad had called the venue to wish him well, and returned the gesture by dedicating the set to his father.
They grew to a quartet, and the added guitarist gave their razor-sharp songs more depth but no less immediacy. Devojka claimed to be hungover from her own birthday celebration the night before, but showed no signs of it as the set grew to a propulsive finale: Ancient was a far-reaching and funky farewell.
But though they engaged the room, the band never appeared totally comfortable on the large stage.
New Pornographers began with a rousing rendition of the title track from their new album, Brill Bruisers, in front of an appropriately colourful backdrop. It’s tough to imagine a more colourful rock act, especially when the delightfully quirky Dan Bejar takes over vocal duties. (And why has it taken them so long to feature a rainbow of colours on an album cover, as they did with BB?)
After 16 years of playing together, the band is clearly family, exchanging subtle smiles and, during tuning breaks, the kind of awkward conversation you might hear at a family get-together. Make no mistake: A.C. Newman is the head of the family. But there’s ample opportunity for each member to shine, as Bejar did on the livening War On The East Coast.
Naturally, the set was full of harmonies, and both Blaine Thurier and Kathryn Calder swapped key and synth solos in near-perfect unison. Testament To Youth In Verse was less poppy than the other songs, showcasing snarling classic rock.Dancehall Domine was a bit bass-heavy in the mix but still hooked the crowd.
The New Pornos’ catalogue teeters on the edge of repetitive at times, and occasionally they seemed to be going through the motions. But their uniformed sonic approach never verges fully into routine. They rushed through Use It from 2005’s Twin Cinema, and then a rousing Jackie, Dressed In Cobras more than made up for it.
Material from the excellent Brill Bruisers showed the most panache and resilience. And the latter part of the set showed particular gusto, especially Backstairs, which featured that full-on wall of sound the Pornos have mastered.