New York’s Brill Building is one of the most prestigious locations in American pop music – an austere Art Deco landmark north of Times Square, 11 floors that incubated hundreds of the top radio hits during the 1950s and 1960s. It housed the vaunted songwriting duos Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield; its corridors of scribes, singers, producers and publishers created modern standards like “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?,” “River Deep-Mountain High,” “Be My Baby” and “Stand By Me.”
It is also, as of last night, where Neko Case joked about hiding a wallet in her crotch. “Make sure you get my camel toe,” ordered the New Pornographers vocalist to the photographers below her, gesturing south as she detailed its storage capacity.
For the live debut of their new album Brill Bruisers, the Canadian rockers honored the titular namesake with a pop-up performance on the ground floor of the building – a barren, sweltering warehouse space with concrete walls bleached white and errant metal brackets hanging like stalactites from the ceiling. (The NPR-sponsored set will be broadcast on the station soon.) Frontman Carl Newman has said that he titled the album partially in tribute to the Brill’s prolific output, and his appreciation for such stevedore work ethic makes sense: His band has operated with a similar unfussy constancy since forming 15 years ago, dispatching six reliably great power-pop albums while preserving their founding “supergroup” lineup.
The hourlong set at the Brill included six songs from their peppy new record, none of which the full band had ever tackled live together (save the title track, debuted on Letterman earlier this week). Opening with “Moves” (from 2010’s Together), they sped through 14 songs with minimal pause or banter, adding a new, coarse psychedelic undertone to many of them. Newman held center stage in a professorial brown blazer, twitching along to his ringing guitar tones and occasional harmonica solo. Eventually, the bohemian Dan Bejar (also of Destroyer) ambled onstage to take the lead for the handful of songs he sang or wrote (including the galvanizing single “War on the East Coast,” which was improved by Newman’s live addition of squealing, isolated guitar tones) then strode briskly off.
Lindsay “Coco” Hames of the Nashville garage-rockers the Ettes eventually stepped in to contribute backing harmonies alongside permanent member Kathryn Calder. The duo shone brightest during the keening Brill selection “Dancehall Domine,” during which they and Case melted into glossy girl-group harmonies befitting the location.
As the band wrapped their set with a joyous spin through “The Bleeding Heart Show” (from 2005’s Twin Cinema), Newman scanned the stark space. “This is a throwback to those classic Brill Building basement shows,” he joked, knowing that he’d just made a strong case for their continuance.