Bumbershoot 2003 (2): The New Pornographers, from blown speakers

I got back at 3:45, enough time to get in another enormous line for the New Pornographers. It was a difficult choice between this Vancouver indie supergroup, Daniel Lanois (who was playing the venue next door), or the Long Winters (who started a half hour later). But one thing made my decision easier: none of the other acts had Neko Case (in addition to her stellar voice, Neko was voted indie rock star Playboy readers would most like to see naked) sharing lead vocal duties.

I got into the hall and experienced my first misgiving: a big underground exhibition hall with no windows, cinderblock walls, and pillars obstructing the view throughout. I made my way to the front and found a spot near a pillar, cursing myself for forgetting my earplugs. Twenty minutes later the band came on, and the sound problems started.

Possibly because of my proximity to the left speaker stack, or maybe the cinderblocks, the sound was muddy and the vocals were buried. It didn’t seem like the vocalists could hear each other either—individually they sounded fine (especially Neko, who even when she’s a “robot” in someone else’s band does amazing vocals), but together it added up to cacophony (and not a pleasant one, either). The only songs that really came together for me were the ones with Neko on lead—“The Laws Have Changed,” “All For Swinging You Around”—and “Testament to Youth in Verse,” whose “the bells ring ‘no no no’” chorus is one of the most audacious pop moments of the ’00s so far. But all in all I’m not 100% sure that I was better off missing Daniel Lanois.