O Canada: Vancouver Battle of the Bands in Denver… Black Mountain vs. The New Pornographers

“Thanks for coming out tonight, we know you have choices…Black Mountain, Lady Gaga…we’re glad you chose to come see us.” That is what Carl Newman had to say to the crowd gathered at The Ogden Theater on Wednesday night for The New Pornographers show. “Black Mountain were supposed to finish their set and then come see us…”

Black Mountain and The New Pornographers have a few things in common. They are both bands from Vancouver, Canada. They are both bands that have members that are in other bands. And they were both playing within a mile of each other on Colfax in Denver on Wednesday night. That’s pretty much were the similarities end though.

The New Pornographers are a unique indie pop band with a big, power pop sound. Some of their songs can even inspire you to dance or sing-along. Black Mountain is a psychedelic rock band with songs that are more likely to inspire you to light up a joint and sway-along.

My tastes usually swing more toward the indie pop world, and away from the stoner rock world, but on this particular night Black Mountain was my preference. I saw them live at the Independent a few years back and they blew me away. I saw The New Pornographers at Bimbo’s a few years back and they disappointed the hell out of me. I was embarrassed that I brought friends who didn’t know them to that show.

Carl and crew announced their show first and I bought a single ticket. I really like most of their recorded work and I am a huge fan of two of their albums, Mass Romantic and Twin Cinema. I wanted to give them another chance, but then Black Mountain announced their show at The Bluebird for the same night and I bought a ticket. I was going to sell my other ticket, but it turns out that they split the crowd and neither show came close to selling out. So I kept my ticket and ended up attending both shows.

Black Mountain took the stage at about 9:15pm and played to a half-full house. They started the night with a couple songs off their upcoming album, Wilderness Heart. Even though the songs were not recognizable, Amber Webber held our attention with her incredible voice. I swear she is one of the most underrated vocalists around today. She sounds like she comes from another time. Amber was center stage the whole night, with lead singer, Stephen McBean, flanking her left side. I have to say Amber is the reason I’m such a Black Mountain fan. She also joins Stephen in Pink Mountaintops and has her own band, Lightning Dust.  I recommend checking them out.

The stage was drown out by a fog machine and ominous light and the set was dominated with material from the upcoming album. Usually this would be the sign of a less than spectacular show. It’s hard to stand around for an hour listening to songs you do not know. But that was not a problem this particular night. Besides “Rollercoaster”, which was a lull in the night, the new songs did not disappoint. “The Hair Song”, “Old Fangs” and “Radiant Hearts” were all highlights. And the acoustic “Buried By The Blues” would not be out of place on a Pink Mountaintops album.

It wasn’t all new stuff though. “Evil Ways”, “Angels” and “Tyrants” were all amazing, and the crowd went crazy for “Stormy High”. The band ended the set with the only song from their first album, “No Hits”, and that’s when I left.  Instead of sticking around for the encore, I headed down to the Ogden to see how the Pornographers show was going.

The first thing I noticed when I walked into the Ogden around 10:30pm was that Dan Bejar was missing from the stage. Carl Newman was there, Neko Case was there, and the rest of the Pornographers were there, but no Dan. The second thing I noticed was something was off with the sound…a speaker was blown or something. The third and fourth things I noticed was that the stage was much more elaborate and the crowd much larger than the show I had just came from.

When Dan did take the stage for “Jackie, Dressed in Cobras”, I realized what my problem is with this band. I don’t like Dan Bejar. I have never really been a fan of his Destroyer work and I am not a fan of his stage presence. First off, he acts cocky as hell. He ruins the flow of the show by starting and stopping songs and acting like he doesn’t know the setlist. And most of all, he leaves the stage if it’s a song he’s not involved in. That is what I had forgotten about that first show in San Francisco…there were times when we had to wait minutes for him to get his drunk ass on stage to perform a song. I just don’t like him. He is not as good as his ego suggests.

That being said, this was a much better show. Sure, there was too much stage banter, Dan was a prick, and the sound wasn’t great…but their strong material is enough to make up for that. The set contained quite a bit from Twin Cinema, no less than three songs from Mass Romantic, and a good selection from the rest of the albums. I was thoroughly entertained and impressed with the majority of the show.

I’m not sure what time they took the stage, but even though I showed up at 10:30pm, I still got to see a full fifteen song set and three song encore. The encore might have gone longer, but after one of my favorites, “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism”, they brought Dan out for “Testament to Youth in Verse” and I left. But I did not leave disappointed. Even though I did not choose The New Pornographers show over Black Mountain like Carl thanked us for, I am glad I was able to make both.

So, who won the battle?  Let’s break it down…

Sound: Black Mountain
Stage Presence: The New Pornographers (with the exception of Dan)
Setlist: The New Pornographers
Crowd Energy: The New Pornographers
Female Vocalists (Neko vs. Amber): Amber
Venue (Ogden vs. Bluebird): Bluebird

Overall:  I would say it was a wash…Vancouver is the big winner!

Black Mountain Setlist Ogden Theater, Denver, CO, USA 2010

The New Pornographers Setlist Ogden Theater, Denver, CO, USA 2010