Terminal 5 might be the most hated venue in all of Manhattan, but it does manage to draw some pretty great bills and Monday was no exception. Music’s most unappreciated man delivered a blistering opening set, while Canadian super rockers The New Pornographers followed with a glamorous hour and 45 minute performance. So, yeah, by night’s end, who really cares if we’re watching in what is otherwise a glorified warehouse across the street from a Lexus dealership?
Really, Ted Leo is music’s most unappreciated man. His 15-year-plus discography is filled with one punk pop gem after another, all of which are defined by rousing choruses and clever narratives. This reality was fully on display Monday night, when Leo and his Pharamacists pumped out a 45-minute set spanning his entire discography. Old staples like “Timorous Me” and “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?” were mixed in with future classics “The Stick”, “Even Heroes Have to Die”, and what is perhaps the best track off The Brutalist Bricks, “Bottle in Cork”. Yet the crowd seemed disinterested and even unappreciative, with one attendee heard saying, “all the songs sound the same.” Here in lies the problem Ted Leo faces: he is indeed a punk by heart and thus heavily restrained by a genre whose biggest criticism is that all its songs sound the same. But Leo and the Pharamarcists are much more than an ordinary punk band and once you get passed the oftentimes similar sounding melodies, you find an intelligent and honest 40-year-old still singing with as much intensity and earnestness as a twentysomething.
Neko Case might play the tambourine but she does not jingle jangle. With her unconcerned grey sweatshirt and tousled red curls, Case embodied the unaffected and casual demeanor of The New Pornographers during their set at Terminal 5 in New York City Monday night. Like their songs, the career band is warm and relaxed with each member knowing exactly what to do.
The set opened with Moves off of their latest album Together, and continued through 22 more songs from a mix of the bands five albums. The set was generous but not surprising. The band plays to please and in response to one audience request, Carl Newman even joked that there are 12 or so songs you can always count on hearing at a New Pornographers show. He added that they should post the list of staples to their website so you know ahead of time not to bother shouting out Testament to Youth in Verse or The Bleeding Heart Show.
New songs like Crash Years or Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk held their own though, at home next to old favorites like Mass Romantic or crowd pleasers like Sing Me Spanish Techno, speaking to the bands consistency on stage and on album. Newman again joked after a fan request, this one for Fake Headlines, saying the band didnt really have to play the song to fulfill the request since it differed in only two chords from the previous song.
Their predictability though is a comfort rather than a weakness. Like Cases worn sweatshirt, The New Pornographers are reliable and enduring, maybe not the band you play to rev up for a night out, but the band you slip back on the morning after while you drag yourself to work. The result is a concert without definitive high points, but one none the less solid and satisfying. The show doesnt include an Arcade Fire-like howling anthem or a Bon Iver-like devastating weeper, but it will leave you evenly content and perhaps more prepared to face the reality of the approaching morning. That being said, Dan Bejar, who always adds a little variety to the show, was missed on Monday. His official excuse according to Newman was that he was off fighting in the Spanish Civil War.
The band themselves seemed to need a bit of the restoring encouragement of songs like Adventures in Solitude or Up in the Dark. In the middle of the show, Case vented about her recent misfortunes which include a house fire and turning forty. Drummer Kurt Dahle chimed in to one up Case; Dahle is 43 and recently lost his dog. Considering how her month was going, Case was a bit worried about her flight to London for the bands show at Shepards Bush Empire on Thursday. Case and Newman joked back and forth about whose flight was doomed and who would land safely abroadaccording to Case, the band all takes separate flights because theyre cheap. The band then played Go Places, a love song painfully hopeful against all odds. Afterwards, Newman called for something reaffirming which led to Hey Snow White. The whole thing lent the feeling of arriving home after a long day, where you throw your hands up and everything lands back down scattered between fighting and accepting whatever fortune youve been dealt.
The evening closed with an encore of Challengers, Up in the Dark, and Sing Me Spanish Techno, sending the audience out ready for anything. During the show, brightly lit letters spelling out The New Pornographers hung behind the band that were reminiscent of the sugary letters you peel off white paper and stick on birthday cakes. The whole show could be lamely summed up by those little sugar letters, that are sweet and sentimental but always with a little paper stuck on you cant scratch off.
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists setlist:
Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone
I’m a Ghost
The Angels’ Share
Where Was My Brain
The One Who Got Us Out
Even Heroes Have to Die
One Polaroid A Day
Bottled in Cork
The Crane Takes Flight
The New Pornographers setlist: (via)
The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism
It’s Only Divine Right
All the Old Showstoppers
The Laws Have Changed
Jackie, Dressed in Cobras
Miss Teen Wordpower
We End Up Together
Adventures in Solitude
Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk
Hey, Snow White (Destroyer cover)
Your Hands (Together)
My Rights Versus Yours
Testament to Youth in Verse
The Bleeding Heart Show
Up in the Dark
Sing Me Spanish Techno
Gallery by Alex Young