Wednesday, 1 April 2009

LIVE REVIEW: AC Newman @ Bell House, Brooklyn - 3/29/09

Alriiiiiight, things are starting to roll. My first paid entry concert since moving to the city in thankful I am for those free shows that bridged the gap.

This is the way to start, though. The Bell House is a grand space in the middle of an old warehouse area less than deserving of such a description. The sound is clear, the space is wide rather than long, and pretty much everyone - save the indie dwarves in attendance - get a decent view. In short, it immediately feels like a performance space for music lovers.

Opening band, Brooklyn's Uninhabitable Mansions, give a feisty performance but one that is dulled by most songs melding into one another without distinction. The Broken West - not entirely surprisingly, from Los Angeles - fare better, delivering an upbeat set of melodic rock. Nothing revolutionary but the songs are well written and the band plays them with a tightness that suggests the members are seasoned road warriors.

Not having an extensive background knowledge of Carl Newman's musical career, I wasn't aware he'd have so many musicians onstage for the live experience. In retrospect, though, there's so much going on instrumentally on new album 'Get Guilty', that a man and his geetar simply weren't going to cut the mustard. This is as well evidenced on show opener 'There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve' as anywhere, replete as it is with gong-like drumming, faint flutes, and dainty violin pizzicato. As on the album, it's a fine way to kick proceedings off and gets a healthy reception from the gathered masses.

The set continued with this entertaining instrumentation throughout, with the musicians switching it up from tambourines to sleigh bells, drum extensions, and even a small keyboard played through what appears to be a bong attachment. Not to be ignored, the vocal performances are also varied, with Newman's voice anchoring the alt-pop tunes and the ladies downing tools to sing dual harmonies (and dance like no one's watching) at opportune moments. One minor grumble amid such revelling is the lack of onstage banter from the main man, restricting himself to sound adjustments and the odd song information. Not that it can overshadow the fine tunesmith he is, but the demeanour is at odds with the otherwise joyous feel.

Returning to the positives, a fine set list includes highlights like the laid back 'The Heartbreak Rides', 'Miracle Drug', and later on a rousing run through of 'Submarines of Stockholm'. The unusual (according to the man himself) inclusion of 'The Battle for Straight Time' was of interest to me, although the muted response and subsequent denunciation from Newman as a "mood killer" assures it's unlikely to return any time soon.

The overwhelming feeling as the band leaves the stage is that the influence of AC Newman is pretty compelling, whatever mood he's in. Whether 'solo', fronting The New Pornographers, or gathering the band together to perform his own creations, the quality of his songs always shine through. Consistency is a worthy trait and one that provides good value for money if you plan to see Mr Newman live. The fact that you'll see more instruments than you remembered existing is simply the icing on a particularly sweet cake.

AC Newman Official Site - Buy

MP3: Miracle Drug

MP3: The Heartbreak Rides

Now playing: Portico Quartet - Too Many Cooks
via FoxyTunes

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