New Pornographers Blow It at Oakland Fox

Photo: Porn star. A bevy of technical difficulties marred the New Pornographers' Sunday performance, sending fans for a cold shower.
Tim Maloney/Staff
Porn star. A bevy of technical difficulties marred the New Pornographers' Sunday performance, sending fans for a cold shower.

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The eight musicians collectively known as the New Pornographers are a talented bunch, whether playing with their independent outfits or coming together for a night of friendly collaborative performance. But you might not have known that if you heard them for the first time on Sunday at the historic Oakland Fox Theater. Built in 1928, the venue's opulence suggests that whatever will take place onstage will be equally impressive. Ornate gold detailing, jewel-tone back-lighting and a pair of gilded Buddha statues should quickly fade into obscurity as soon as the audience becomes entranced by a beguiling performance.

The New Pornographers are a group with the ability to overshadow any grandiose setting. With four powerful lead vocalists (Carl Newman, Neko Case, Dan Bejar and Kathryn Calder) and an ensemble of four or five others at any given time, it would normally be a challenge to drown out even one of these singers. Alas, all were lost by the poor sound engineering. The issue was not so much volume as loss of clarity, a crucial asset for this diverse group.

Strikingly, for the number of people on the stage at any given moment, the entire event was lacking a kinetic energy. Singer/guitarist Carl Newman was the most mobile in the bunch, but most of the Pornographers stayed exactly in front of their microphones, eyes closed. Dan Bejar elicited excited cheers each time he reemerged, but with every reappearance, he seemed to have slipped a bit further away from the audience and his band mates.

The primary source of disappointment stemmed from the high quality performances fans have come to expect from the New Pornographers. Indeed, the performances could've been great it just wasn't easy to hear amid the audience's audible complaints about the muddled sound. Still, the crowd sang along to "Myriad Harbor," Neko Case's beautiful vocals on "Go Places," the energetic "Letter From an Occupant" and the first encore piece, "Challengers."

The casually clad octet appeared beneath a flashing display of their name which didn't quite fit with the players below. Sadly, the New Pornographers really didn't offer much of a "show," a point only exacerbated by their blinking sign reminding everyone just what their name connotes. Given the evening's constraints, the Pornographers' usual penchant for great performances couldn't be realized. But as they said in the beginning, it was their first show in Oakland; hopefully next time they'll come prepared to fill the rich theater with a performance that matches.

Watch innovative pornography with Jennafer at [email protected]

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