In pandemic’s wake, The New Pornographers deliver latest dose of formidable indie-pop

The band’s sophisticated blend of pop, new wave, glam, krautrock and indie rock remains familiar but has evolved since the brash power-pop days of early albums.

SHARE In pandemic’s wake, The New Pornographers deliver latest dose of formidable indie-pop
The New Pornographers: Joe Seiders (from left), John Collins, AC Newman, Neko Case, Todd Fancey and Kathryn Calder.

The New Pornographers: Joe Seiders (from left), John Collins, AC Newman, Neko Case, Todd Fancey and Kathryn Calder.

Ebru Yildiz

Following an uncharacteristic absence, frequent visitors The New Pornographers are making their first return to Chicago since 2019.

The Canadian indie-pop supergroup has held a stronghold of support in Chicago since first playing at The Hideout in 2001 while supporting their debut album “Mass Romantic.” Local supporters helped to sell out two shows this weekend at Thalia Hall.

Principal songwriter and co-frontperson Carl Newman fondly remembers the band’s early days when co-founding bandmate Neko Case was still living in town.

“There was a point in the early 2000s where I thought maybe I should move to Chicago, too,” says Newman. “It was definitely tempting because there was such a cool scene. I knew Nora O’Connor [Kean] who still plays with us; Andrew Bird, and lots of other people.”

New Pornographers

The New Pornographers

When: 8 p.m. May 5- 6

Where: Thalia Hall, 1807 S. Allport

Tickets: Sold out; a limited number of tickets will be available when doors open; 17+

Info: thaliahallchicago.com

Singer and local mainstay Kean contributed to early New Pornographers albums including 2003’s “Electric Version” and 2005’s “Twin Cinema.” The backstage door at Thalia Hall will be open for a surprise appearance.

“If she’s around, she’s definitely invited,” says Newman. “Nora’s amazing.”

Newman appeared as part of Case’s solo band in September at Out of Space in Evanston, alongside Pornographers drummer Joe Seiders. Such mutual support reaches back to Case’s 1997 debut “The Virginian,” which features two songs co-written with Newman.

“Neko and I just hit it off when we met in 1996,” says Newman. “When she started doing the record, she asked if I would help a little bit. When I had my new project I wanted do, I was like, ‘Hey, will you sing on it? Because it turns out you’re a killer singer. This will be very convenient.’ [Laughs]”

Bassist John Collins has also been with Newman since the Pornographers’ beginning.

“The partnership with John goes deeper,” says Newman. “Neko and I have always worked together very quickly. John’s the guy I sit with in the studio for months at a time hammering out the records.”

Carl Newman of The New Pornographers (with Joe Seiders on drums).

Carl Newman of The New Pornographers, with Joe Seiders on drums.

Nicole White

The band’s latest album “Continue as a Guest” will feature heavily at the concerts. The New Pornographers’ sophisticated blend of pop, new wave, glam, krautrock and indie rock remains familiar but has evolved since the brash power-pop days of early albums including “Electric Version.” Written during pandemic lockdown, “Continue as a Guest” works through forced seclusion to find a silver lining. Despite recognizing the calamitous situation for public health, the title track describes an upside for homebodies.

“During the pandemic when everyone was isolated, there were some people that talked about how much they liked it,” says Newman. “I remember Trevor Noah saying on ‘The Daily Show,’ ‘I’m an introvert. I love just being by myself and being separate.’

“I have my little place in Woodstock with four acres, and I just thought, ‘This is an OK place to be.’ I like being with my wife and son, when we’re just sitting at home watching ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ I thought, ‘I’m always gonna wanna make music, but maybe it doesn’t matter if the audience is there anymore.’”

“Pontius Pilate’s Home Movies” leads with Collins’ irresistible bass hook before describing a series of vivid but indirect images. The song reflects consumption of social media, heightened during the pandemic.

“It was about how fractured social media is,” says Newman. “If you’re scrolling through Twitter, sometimes there will be a hilarious joke. Then the next thing you see will be the story of a school shooting. There’s constant juxtaposition of things that don’t belong together. I thought maybe my song about social media should have that same quality.”

The single, “Really Really Light,” was built around a leftover chorus from absentee member Dan Bejar, dating to 2014’s “Brill Bruisers.” Upbeat music sugarcoats troubled but hopeful lyrics.

“I liked the chorus where [Dan] talks about ‘heart like a feather,’” says Newman. “I thought of that chorus as aspirational. Going back to being in the pandemic, it was the idea that at some point in the future, we won’t have to talk about this s--- anymore. We can just talk about the weather and everything’s gonna be light.”

The New Pornographers have run for 25 years with no signs of slowing. A 10th album is already in progress. What began as Newman’s experiment has become a beloved institution.

“I’m shocked at the longevity,” says Newman, with gratitude toward his bandmates. “At the heart of it, I just love making music. I will always show up and go, ‘Hey, here are some songs I’m working on.’ And I feel like they’ll always be like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’”

The Latest
Doctors used a spinal anesthetic to numb the patient from the chest down, eliminating the use of narcotics and general anesthesia, cutting recovery time. The patient, John Nicholas, was released within 24 hours of the procedure.
Officers responded to reports of a person shot in the 3300 block of South Roosevelt Road about 9:15 p.m. Sunday and found a 24-year-old man who had been shot several times, police said.
Officers responded to a call of a person shot in the 2800 block of South Kedzie Avenue about 6:25 p.m. Sunday and found a 23-year-old man who told them he had exchanged gunfire with others, police said. Earlier, three people were shot nearby, one fatally.
The Cubs dropped the series to the Mets and fell four games below .500.