March 12, 2009

Live Local Music: A.C. Newman Rocks Castaways

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Richly layering impressionistic narrative fragments, lush orchestral arrangements and infectiously catchy hooks, A.C. Newman hurled Castaways crowd into his cavernous, maximalist realm of Power Pop.
Newman wasted little time in warming the souls of the rain-drenched audience on Tuesday night, leading off with the triumphant, self-reflective, “There Are Maybe Ten Or Twelve.” Echoing electric guitar gelled with rhythmic, playful shaker, as Newman cautioned, “There are maybe ten or twelve things I can teach you / After that your on your own.” Delicate violin finger picking showered the verse with droplets of sobering rain — “Make of that what you will.”
Known to many as the frontman of North American indie rock supergroup The New Pornographers, A.C. Newman followed his 2004 debut solo album, The Slow Wonder, with the newly released Get Guilty. Debuting in January just inside the über-mainstream Billboard Albums Top 100, the Canadian’s offering has impressively sustained its position on the College Radio Chart Top 10. Ambitiously hitting Toronto, Montréal, Boston, New York, Philly and DC all in the next week to promote his sophomore solo album, the indie icon is currently signed with independent label powerhouse Matador Records, home to Belle & Sebastian, Cat Power, Lou Reed, Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo. He’s very much in the company he deserves.
Remarking on the “overarching sense of doom” he felt in Eugene, Oregon, Carl declared through his idiosyncratic lisp that he was thrilled to be playing in front of Cornell students, especially since he “gets to use words that are Latin in origin” such as “caveat” and “extrapolate” without feeling like a total knob, or worse, his 10th grade English teacher.
Crisp vocal harmonies and visceral, guitar-driven melodies encountered an escalating, forceful drum beat in “On The Table.” Newman affirmed his reputation as a lyrical powerhouse, belting with purpose and drive, as his eyes were reduced to tiny, snakelike slits: “On the table, the deal between the thieves and exits / Common and breathless, shrugging at what they’ve become — number one.” Skittering piano highlighted the singer’s tormented yet cathartic confession, “Do, re, mi, innocent, Ahh!”
Drawing inspiration from trailblazers The Shins, “All Of My Days And All of My Days Off” fused stiff piano with idyllic whistling and rhythmically hypnotic verse. In an explosion of full-bodied, blended harmony, Newman’s trademark stylistic inclinations were thrust into the foreground of the chorus, with his six-musician ensemble deftly navigating challenging tempo shifts through the track.
In “The Changeling (Get Guilty),” Newman gave his fans free reign to join in, as the entire bar burst into an anthemic, “Love will travel, yeah, let’s say it will / We know where it goes, you know the drill / Get guilty, kid, get guilty, go, with the same cruel sense of humor that you came with. Change your minnnd!”
With critics tracing Newman’s musical style along the family tree of Britpop mastermind Ray Davies (The Kinks) and pianist singer-songwriter Ben Folds, Tuesday night’s performance was a clear display of Power Pop virtuoso, saturated with a high energy vocal delivery, ambrosial instrumentation and poetic, striking lyrical imagery.