A.C. Newman shines at The Independent
March 2, 2009
Written by Ben Van Houten
Words and Photos by: Ben Van Houten
Opening with “There Are Maybe Ten Or Twelve,” the first track from his new solo album, A.C. Newman delivered an hour-plus set of stately chamber-power-pop to great applause on Saturday night at The Independent. After weeks of hand-wringing about Get Guilty–Was the production too muted? Were some of the songs too long or too slow?–it was welcome relief that the live show rendered these questions moot via an enthusiastic set from this former San Francisco resident. Yes, Newman announced, he lived for a period of time at Broderick and Eddy, noting that, memorably, “there were a lot of murders.”
Fronting a six-person band with three guitars, the New Pornographer managed to capture the beauty and elegance of the new album but with an additional “pop” that brought out the best of “Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer” and “The Palace at 4 a.m.” Newman’s several multi-instrumentalists meant that more layered songs like the waltz “Young Atlantis” retained their beauty too, and several tracks from 2004′s The Slow Wonder (including “Miracle Drug” and “On The Table”) were a welcome treat. Solo and with the NPs, Newman has stacked up a series of releases that rank him as one of the most consistent songwriters in indie pop, and if this sets the bar high for each new release, his set Saturday demonstrated an ability to reach some very rewarding high points.
I only briefly visited Dent May‘s MySpace page before going to The Independent, but it set off all sorts of irony warning bells, from the sparkle-filled background to the Lisa Frank picture to the can of Tab listed under “Influences.” Thankfully, though, my initial skepticism was melted away in the face of overwhelming sincerity once the Mississippian May hit the stage. Dent plays the “magnificent ukulele,” but thankfully doesn’t treat it as a novelty instrument, just one of the pieces that fits together into some wonderfully baroque pop music.
Great three-part vocal harmonies made for a very pleasant listening experience, but I’ll admit to getting a little worn down by the end of the set. The music was spot on, but I wasn’t as sold on the depth of May’s lyrics. Alternating between character vignettes and love songs, none of May’s stories stood out as particularly clever or engaging on first pass but I’m hoping that future listens will reveal lyrical ideas with the depth and humor of a Jens Lekman or Stephen Merritt.
Since first hearing “A Truce” late last year, I’d been looking forward to an opportunity to see LA singer-songwriter Devon Williams. The song is the sort of buoyant twee pop that Belle and Sebastian so excelled at it, and it was a set highlight last night for Williams and his band, who were performing their second ever show together. A trio sporting a guitar-bass-drums lineup, the set featured a heavier emphasis on jangly electric guitar than I’d expected, lending Williams’ songs an 80s Brit-rock feel punctuated by an exuberant cover of The Only Ones’ “Miles From Nowhere.” It was a strong performance overall, blemished only by some awkward between-song banter that included such not-destined-to-become-classic bits as “What’s the deal with the name ‘Noise Pop’?” and “Let’s hear some jokes!”