a.c. newman [2009]

The Independent
San Francisco, CA
28 February 2009

I’d never seen any of the Pornographers live before, New or otherwise. So I was pretty excited that my first opportunity coincided with Noise Pop.

From the very opening lines of the first song, “There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve…”, it was clear that A.C. Newman is power-chord prog-pop at its best, in this case: a strong simple melody, spiced up with a syncopated violin line and some cleverly-phrased lyrics.

As with most modern musicians, Newman’s influences seem many and varied. There are dramatic sweeping melodies and similarly grand sentiments (“the heartbreak rides for free”) that seem right out of early 80s prog-rock. There are lyrics that seem to cry out early 90s Brit pop. Thankfully, though, all of these elements come together quite harmoniously.

Over the course of the set, it became clear that Newman favors some pretty adventurous instrumentation. Violin, trumpet, melodica – you name it, it was on the stage. And, of course, the now-indie-rock-prerequisite recorder duet.

Unlike other bands that throw one odd instrument after another at the audience, though, Newman and his band are actually good musicians and adept at each. This is an incredibly crisp and polished group. Everything seems so well thought-out, finely tuned and intricately managed. I’m guessing Mr. Newman is something of a perfectionist. Possibly annoying for his bandmates, but it works out well for us.

In a wholly irrelevant side note, I have to admit that I was slightly distracted by the drummer, who’d apparently decided to portray (at least on this night) an 80s stockbroker cokehead. Sport coat. Open collar polo shirt. Scraggily beard. Frenetic energy. You get the picture. Didn’t seem to get in the way of his drumming, though. Excellent work with some tricky time signatures.

Like the opener Dent May, the band did lose some momentum over the course of the set. Perhaps there were too many slow, flatter songs in a row. Perhaps the second half was simply just a casualty of such a strong string of opening songs.

All in all, though, A.C. Newman demonstrated that he knows how to put together a solid group of musicians and produce a powerful, multi-layered pastiche of pop.