The New Pornographers
wsg Thao & the Get Down Stay Down
Frederik Meijer Gardens, Grand Rapids
July 15, 5:30 p.m. doors, 6:30 p.m. show
$35, meijergardens.org, (616) 957-1580
New Pornographers leader/songwriter A.C. Newman vividly remembers the last time his band was supposed to play in Grand Rapids.
It was fall 2010 and the critically-adored indie-rock group had just released its Together LP. The band was scheduled to perform at Calvin College until protests came over the band’s name. Ultimately the show was cancelled.
“That worked in our favor so much,” Newman said, immediately recalling the incident when the name Grand Rapids came up in conversation.
The New Pornographers’ 2010 tour continued unabated following the controversially canceled Calvin show, bolstered by new buzz surrounding the name controversy. It rallied their staunch fans to encourage people to actually listen to the band’s harmony-rich power-pop.
“In the history of rock ‘n’ roll has there ever been a band that had somebody protest against them and it didn’t work out great for the band?” Newman said. “People never learn that lesson. Tipper Gore was the best thing to happen to rock music.”
It’s been five years since the Calvin cancellation and a lot has happened in the lives of the Canadian supergroup, fronted by Newman, alt-country firebrand Neko Case and elusive indie songwriter Dan Bejar (of Destroyer fame). They’ve all released other projects and had massive milestones occur in their personal lives — including the death of Newman’s mother and the birth of his son. Yet The New Pornographers have found a way to continue on. Fifteen years removed from their beloved debut, Mass Romantic, the band is now middle-aged.
Its latest album, last year’s Brill Bruisers, saw them reconvene and reconnect with that first record’s spark of daring as Newman and company welcomed a more retro-futurist sound.
“This record is the record we’ve been hinting at making for a long time,” he said. “I wanted to be consciously synthetic, like we wanted to go for sounds that were very cool, but not necessarily real in any way. I find modern music very interesting in that way because there’s this back and forth between the human and the completely synthetic.”
Utilizing recent changes in recording technology, while drawing inspiration from the history of New York City’s legendary Brill Building — home to such famously prolific songwriters as Carole King, Burt Bacharach and Hal David in the 1950s and ‘60s — Newman brought a celebratory feel to Brill Bruisers that had somewhat dissipated on the band’s last few records.
“When I first started writing songs, I think I was really fascinated by the idea of the songwriter,” Newman said. “I wasn’t really trying to be like Lennon and McCartney or Jagger and Richards — I wanted to be like Bacharach and Jimmy Webb. It’s fun to be in a band, but I also just love that personal side. There’s something about the solitude of writing to me. It can be painful, but it can be a lot of fun when you find it, when you get to those eureka moments.”
Not one to compare himself directly to those past songwriting legends, Newman humbly dismissed any claim he’d help continue their legacies in the new millennium. But he’ll continue to do just that, as Brill Bruisers is charting higher than any other New Pornographers’ album to date.
“I’m content just to be inspired by those people,” he said. “As for my place in the universe, I think I just want to keep making my living doing what I do. As long as I can do that, I think I’ll be happy.”