If you happened to be one of the 150 or so people who received an invite to the WISE Hall Thursday night for a private concert featuring local-ish outfit the New Pornographers, you were treated well: A solid set of well-crafted pop songs courtesy of A.C. Newman, Dan Bejar and the gang, minus Neko Case, an open bar and attractive young people urging you to touch their tablets and use a particular hashtag in tweets for a chance to meet the band backstage. Did I mention the open bar?
The purpose of the intimate gig, however, was not to bask in the uplifting melodies of a well-respected indie group or reward fans left out in the cold of the band’s two sold-out Commodore shows in October, but to promote the online streaming service Google Play Music. More on that later.
As for the show, it was a treat — there’s that word again — seeing the New Pornographers in the smaller, neighbourly setting of the WISE Hall, even though the heavily staffed demo stations positioned strategically around the room felt like I was watching a concert in an Apple store at times. The band sounded in fine form, with Kathryn Calder capably taking over Case’s vocal duties on such oldies as “The Laws Have Changed” and “Use It” as well as squaring off with Newman on the stylish rocker “Dancehall Domine” from the band’s latest album Brill Bruisers. Bejar, who also shares his shaggy mane and song stylings with his other group Destroyer, resembled a sophisticated flasher in beige pants and buttoned up beige raincoat. The wiry-voiced singer and occasional guitarist added a comic element to the proceedings, intentionally or not, emerging from backstage with a topped-up glass of red wine in hand for the half dozen songs he sang on, formally bowing to the audience at the end of each tune before retreating into the shadows again.
At one point, Newman asked the audience if anyone could name the person who invented Google. No one in the audience had an answer for him besides a few ironic yells of “Mark Zuckerberg” and “Steve Jobs.” That was the closest the band came to outwardly promoting the company bankrolling the private party. From what I was able to glean from the multiple 60-day free trial certificates handed to me by the effusive keepers of the tablet, Google Play Music is similar to a number of music streaming and subscription services such as Spotify, Songza, Pandora and Grooveshark… only better, as I was frequently told. I’m not sure how it’s better, because my brain doesn’t absorb a lot of pertinent information when my liver is busy absorbing free alcohol, but at the demo station my friend Brock and I investigated the service’s Rush content, as one does, and he noticed a live album he had never heard of before. If I had been a bigger Rush fan, I might have high-fived him.
The show shut down before the respectable hour of 11 p.m., which was probably a good thing given my weakness for free stuff, liquid or otherwise. My evening sucking on the teat of Google complete, I staggered to the bus stop with the New Pornographers’ bouncy final song “Sing Me Spanish Techno” ringing in my ears. Not a bad way to spend a soggy Thursday evening.