A.C. Newman may have been going it alone as a solo act apart from the New Pornographers that first brought him to the indie spotlight, but with a five-member backing band joining him at the Mercy Lounge on Saturday, it was clear from the first song that this would be no pet project for the power-pop savant. Newman quickly settled into his center mic with eyes clinched, swaying against his acoustic, slapping out staccato strums and caterwauling lyrics through his thick lisp.
Multi-instrumentalist Shaun Brodie manned his melodica for a tense rendition of "Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer," then swapped out trumpet blasts for synth-driven hooks with fellow keyboardist/guitarist Shane Nelkin across stage. If bass player Miranda Brown toughed out a cold between back-up vocals and sprightly whistles--a reserve bottle of throat spray on top of the amp behind her--drummer Jon Wurster (poached from Superchunk for the tour) cooly jabbed his drum kit to keep up with Newman's brisk pace.
For what turned out to be a damn fine show, the crowd felt a little thin and overly relaxed, with dreamy couples muttering lyrics in unison and plenty of head-bobbers with their hands stuffed in the marsupial pockets of their hoodies. But by the band's encore performance of "Town Halo," the audience was hanging on every riff and cat-calling for more. Leading the song's frenetic violin hook was Tara Szczygielski--incidentally, a spitting image of fellow Porno Neko Case--intensely sawing the strings with such a country totter to her step you wouldn't have thought this was her first stay in Nashville. Newman and his band may have been a long way from Ontario, but their undaunted pep proved the road hadn't worn them down one bit.