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new pornographers and belle & sebastian @ the riverside, milwaukee 2006-03-11

Tracey, Bill, some friends and I went to see New Pornographers and Belle & Sebastian @ the Riverside Theatre here in milwaukee last night. inkdroid had warned me to look out for a hipster black hole at the event, but we escaped the singularity with our souls intact.

I expected the show to be good, but i wasn't sure what kind of show Belle & Sebastian would put on. I figured that we would all be happily lulled to sleep by a quiet performance.

New Pornographers opened up, but their energy was pretty hard to top. I would not have wanted to follow them. They played like the Pixies: "Hello, we are the New Pornographers and we have never been to Milwaukee before. This song is called blah blah blah". There were almost no breaks between the incredibly energetic songs. Because Belle & Sebastian's gear was already set up, the New Pornographers were all in a single line across the stage, with the drummer center stage. He was great and looked like a giant sleepy man imitating tommy lee. The whole band was really tight and whoever the female vocalist/keyboardist was, she was great.

The only thing that bugged me about their set was the fact that the sound was mixed incredibly flat and muddy. Aside from the drums, very little was distinguishable. I worried that during Belle & Sebastian we wouldn't be able to hear anything, a fear that turned out to be unfounded.

Belle & Sebastian took the stage and the sound was fantastic. The set was quieter than the New Pornographers, but you could hear every scrape of the strings, every vocal fluctuation, every gentle drum or cymbal hit. Stuart played the rock star a bit and started off by shaking everyone's hands at the foot of the stage, but it was all tongue-in-cheek. He was a great performer and the frequent instrument and position changes were eased by his chatter.

They opened with a track from their new album, The Life Pursuit, but played mainly older material, which was fabulous. I have listened to some of those tracks for years and to hear them in a crystal clear theatre was excellent. My only real complaint is that there were not more numbers featuring Sarah's amazing voice. If she would have sung "Is it Wicked Not to Care?" i would still be bouncing around with a giant lazy smile on my face next week. UPDATE: since i only listen to this music and don't religiously follow their lives, i didn't realize until tonight that Sarah was not the original female singer. Even Bill, who was much less interested in Belle & Sebastian than New Pornographers, was bopping along throughout most of the set.

The performance really transformed many of the songs for me. The records are such small, quiet, beautiful things. Seeing the whole stage production with the lights, the smoke and (most importantly) a big, full band sound was really impressive.

The show was great and as a first concert as Milwaukee residents, Tracey and I were both pretty happy.

Some link love from around the web:


Unless there's another woman in the band, that would be Neko Case. She's also got a number of albums of her own, ranging in quality from "pretty good" to "life-changing". Ping me for samples.

no, neko case is currently out on her own tour. The woman singing for the New Pornographers was Kathryn Calder, according to the On Milwaukee review.