The New Pornographers, Shepherds Bush Empire, London

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The Independent Culture

The seven-piece Vancouver collective The New Pornographers somehow remain Canada's most underrated band.

As they storm through opening song "Moves", the muffled wallop of the drums and clean, echoing clang of every other instrument is undeniably thrilling, and their relative anonymity, 13 years in, seems an inexplicable pop crime. But clues and motives are in plain sight, at the front of the stage the band's main writer Carl Newman shares with their erstwhile star Neko Case. He doesn't look at her all night.

Case is a raven-haired, freewheeling figure, whose solo Americana stardom has taken precedence over the band since 2005's Twin Cinema, to some disgruntlement from Newman. This short tour is the first time she's played the UK with her old crew. She's clearly reining herself in, and puzzled at the back Newman ritually turns to her between songs, adding a tense dynamic akin to that between the Pixies' Black Francis and Kim Deal. She also adds a necessary final spark to an already brilliant brew.

Newman admires songs with "massive hooks, but really odd", and there's something clenched at the heart of his music, the product of a controlled mind crafting intricate yet immediate melodies. The compacted intellect of his lyrics is always carried by his band's tearaway momentum, in a sort of obsessive-compulsive garage-rock. Case embodies the liberation they also seek. She dutifully stays on ballsy bubblegum harmonies with her partial replacement Kathryn Calder at first. But when she sings lead, her powerful voice demands earthier thrills from life than Newman can claim on his own. On "My Rights Versus Yours", she aids the song's "truth in one free afternoon"; the imaginative insurrection the best pop offers. By the encore, Newman is loosening up with red wine. As "Sing Me Spanish Techno" blows the last shackles off, his fine, weird pop band sound unbeatable.