A.C. Newman at the Turf Club, 11/1/12
Turf Club, St. Paul
Thursday, November 1, 2012
There's something about the way a show flows that becomes evident only when things are going really well or really badly. A.C. Newman's gig at the Turf last night fell into that former category. To say the least, it was smooth.
Newman started strong with the first track from his new album, "I'm Not Talking". The crowd ate it up, eagerly waiting after the Mynabirds finished their opening set. When the band eased into "The Palace at 4 a.m.," the audience had noticeably eased into the ubiquitous Twin Cities stand-and-bop.
I've never come away from the Turf feeling like I still had much hearing left, and this night was the shining exception to my usual rule. It was on "Encyclopedia of Takedowns" that I started to feel just how A.C. Newman works on that too-small stage. While his band creates a sense of high-energy, they do it without being overly loud or gimmicky. That's not to say that the band is without power; on the contrary, they made their performance thrum with a sort of effervescent beat throughout the night.
There are some bands that are on stage and some that own it. A.C. Newman falls into the latter category, hands down with a quiet but commanding stage presence. While a lesser band would handle the multiple instrumental changes with clunky transitions, this group was a well-oiled, multi-talented machine. The bassist handled not only rhythm, but pulled out her clarinet during a few songs. Another musician switched deftly between saxophone and flute, most notably on "Hostages." One of the best things about seeing Newman live is watching these expert musicians and hearing the unique hum when there are various instruments in different keys approaching the same melody together.
Until "Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns," there had barely been any banter, no feigning a sense of connection with the audience because the connection was already there with the music itself. And yet, backlit by crimson, the redheaded Newman response to a fan's "I LOVE YOUUU" with a mumbled "Thanks, love is good" made it feel if he's still surprised at the command he has over an audience. During the encore, Newman got a few more declarations of love, and he readily returned the sentiment threefold.
Somewhat surprisingly, Newman's set was made up of mostly older songs, tried and true favorites that the audience could hum and sing along to. While he seems to be focused hard on getting word about the new album out, he's also clearly into giving the fans what they know and love. While there were old and new pieces woven throughout the set, they blended seamlessly into Newman's stellar catalog of work.
After decades of performing, Newman knows what succeeds well onstage and what doesn't. Closing the set with a grittier, fuzzier version of "Miracle Drug," the song transformed itself from the bubbly pop sound on the album to something darker altogether. Ending the encore with "Town Halo" brought the crowd to a roar, dancing harder than they had all night, leaving them filled with warm energy to battle the chilly St. Paul night outside.
I sort of listened to the New Pornographers in the mid 2000s, but a couple years ago I discovered "Miracle Drug" and didn't look back.
A generally calm group and a wide range of ages with many wearing either stripes or plaid (sometimes both).
Overheard in the Crowd:
"They don't sell ear plugs here."
Random Notebook Dump:
It took some pretty drawn-out, mumbling banter from The Mynabirds to make me really appreciate Newman's swift transition between songs. Other than some issues with their banter, The Mynabirds delivered as a stylish, upbeat opener.
I'm Not Talking
The Palace at 4 a.m.
On the Table
Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns
The Changeling (Get Guilty)
You Could Get Lost Out Here
Drink to Me, Babe, Then
Do Your Own Time
They Should Have Shut Down the Streets
Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer
The Heartbreak Rides
There's Money in New Wave
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