Concert Review: AC Newman, March 12, Lee’s Palace


Walking into Lee’s Palace on Wednesday night, it was all I could do to not walk right back out upon seeing four somewhat geeky-looking dudes on stage with the lead singer playing a ukulele. I find it hard to take ukulele rock seriously. I’m just prejudiced against ukuleles, I guess. It’s a personal failing. I’ll work on it, I promise.

In this case, however, I was able to suppress my natural instincts and managed to sit back, get a beer from the bar, and patiently await AC Newman without charging the stage during Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele’s set (actual band name) and beating the lead singer to death with his own ukulele. My ukulele prejudice may be stronger than I originally thought. May was ok, it was kind of cute when he climbed up on the bass drum and jumped off during his last song, but I wasn’t disappointed that we arrived halfway through his band’s set.

Newman arrived promptly at 10:30. You may know Newman best for his work as one of the voices and the primary songwriter for The New Pornographers, Canada’s favourite 8-piece musical outfit (or second favourite, depending on how many people are actually in Broken Social Scene at any given moment). Newman has also just put out his second solo album, Get Guilty, the follow-up to 2004’s The Slow Wonder. His solo band is also almost as big as his other band; Newman’s set last night featured seven musicians on stage, occasionally with as many as five singing at once.

Clearly, Newman is a songwriter who likes the harmonies and instruments you get with a larger group. His show featured a violin player/backup singer, a keyboardist/trumpeter, and a backup singer/tambourine player, alongside the more traditional two guitars, drums, and bass.

And it makes for a good sound, there’s no doubt about that. Newman’s voice is perfect for the kind of power pop he writes. It has more similarities to the stuff he writes for the New Pornographers than differences: favouring song lyrics that sound good together rather than stuff that makes a lot of literal sense, lots of la-la-la sing alongs, and harmony and melody favoured above things like big guitar solos.

In the tradition of the older AM radio tunes that most power pop draws inspiration from, all of the songs are under four minutes long. And while Newman seems like a pretty funny and engaging type, the sort of guy with a quick wit and dry sense of humour you’d like to hang out with after the show, he doesn’t banter with the audience a whole lot. This resulted in a show that was only about 65 minutes from start to finish; I expected it to be longer and left a little disappointed that it wasn’t. Sometimes with a big group it can be pretty obvious when one member is a little inexperienced, or doesn’t know the material quite as well as the rest. Good as Newman’s band is, comparisons to how the Pornographers sound when they’re all together onstage are inevitable, and Newman’s band just doesn’t sound as polished or cohesive. That’s maybe the best thing about the New Pornographers, of course, that they’re such talented individuals but can still come together and sound terrific as a group, so the comparison might not be entirely fair. But whether it’s because the material isn’t quite as good, because the individuals aren’t quite as talented, or because they haven’t played together as long, Newman’s group isn’t at the same level.

Still, they made for a fun night of tunes. I’ve also decided I quite like Lee’s Palace as a venue. The stage is at a great height for watching from the floor, the sightlines from the wall or the bar are more than decent, and the sound is quite good. The band ended on a high with Newman’s best song from The Slow Wonder, the delightfully loud “The Town Halo” with it’s shouted chorus and repeated “aaaaaaaaaaa” yells. Newman’s new stuff sounded good, prompting me to want to give it more attention than I have to date. And Lee’s has Beck’s, even if it’s a bit pricey for a bottled beer.

4/5 for a solid show that was maybe a bit too short, but at a $15 ticket price, I don’t think there was much reason to complain.

Posted on by Brian in Concerts