The weather forecasted for Vancouver on Friday, August 28th was moderate-to-heavy rainfall. Given the recent water restrictions and dry, golden grass, the city really needed that rain. However, the concert-goers at the PNE preferred otherwise, as they were coming out on a Friday evening to see one of Vancouver’s premier indie rock bands — The New Pornographers (TNP) — at an outdoor amphitheater. The aforementioned forecast proved to be inaccurate, and pink clouds emerged during Friday’s sunset, providing a serene backdrop for the attendees as they waited for frontman Carl Newman and company to take the stage.
TNP kicked off their set with the stellar title-track from their most recent album Brill Bruisers. What followed was a dynamic setlist, as the 8-piece band presented their songwriting prowess with some upbeat songs — “Dancehall Domine”, “The Laws Have Changed”– as well as more intimate numbers — “Champions of Red Wine”, “You Tell Me Where”.
Several songs showcased TNP’s ability to seemlessly harmonize their vocal parts. For instance, Dan Bejar occasionally appeared onstage and shared his unique vocal style with the other band members, harmonizing with frontman Newman and keys player Kathryn Calder during “Born with a Sound” and “Myriad Harbour”. Bejar also played acoustic rhythm guitar to broaden TNP’s sound. Although Neko Case was not present to contribute her vocal performances, Calder took responsibility for Case’s parts. The keys player allowed her vocal delivery to shine in the limelight throughout the set, most notably on “Champions of Red Wine”.
The sound projected from the amphitheater’s sound system was a pleasure to experience. Kudos to the soundboard personnel — the levels for the vocal mics and instruments were well-mixed, and the overall sound was clear, despite the potential for acoustic-related problems commonly found in open-air venues. Children with ear defenders were dancing around, and heads were bopping to the indie rock grooves filling the space in the amphitheater.
Carl Newman briefly acknowledged the crowd between songs, but kept the show rolling as the sunset turned to nightfall. TNP busted out some tunes from their back catalog — the dynamic “Testament to Youth in Verse” from their second album Electric Version; and the upbeat songs “Sing Me Spanish Techno” and “Use It” from Twin Cinema. Listeners of CBC Radio’s Q would recognize “Use It” as the former opening theme song for the radio program. Following the completion of their main set, the crowd clapped and repeatedly stomped their feet on the bleachers. TNP responded with a short encore, which featured the catchy title track from their first album Mass Romantic.
Complimenting the amphitheater’s concert ambiance was the lighting. Spotlights illuminated the band above the stage, and the fairground rides and trees nearby provided additional lighting for those enjoying the show. Visual elements are often given far too much emphasis during concerts, but TNP’s have never required elaborate lighting or projections to put on an excellent show like they did tonight. This is to be respected in the contemporary era of live music.