May 27, 2010
By Brandi Bliss
Photos by Jamie Cotes
Short and sweet, the Broken Bells show delivered a spacey trip in record time. Just the same as the refined tracks on their LP, the live show synched together effortlessly. The indie pop-rock duo expanded to a seven piece band who successfully reproduced the self-titled album for their live performance with perfect precision.
Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton has mastered his instrument-swap routine and is adaptable, not only in profession but also stage presence. Playing the Organ, Synthesizer, Bass, Piano and Drums on the album, Burton made a point to sample each instrument for the show. His co-star from pending project The Shins, James Mercer, also held up his end of the bargain. Mercer’s distinct falsetto voice predictably penetrated and his tranquil demeanor played host to the laid back evening.
An hour after doors opened, the venue was buzzing with conversation amongst a friendly and energetic crowd, creating a warm welcome for the opening band, The Morning Benders. Although the group has a powerful and positive buzz throughout the indie community, expectations were shifting as the demure group approached the stage. When a guitar string blew on the second song, the band fumbled to engage the audience while tuning a replacement and skepticism rose. At a glance, The Morning Benders are tame and awkward, thumping through a quirky-fairytale melody. When you delve deeper they’re much more complex, slowly gaining our attention near the middle of the set. Their seemingly chaotic but strategic arrangement can throw off even the most seasoned of listeners. Hard to define, they have artfully mastered a balance between experimental, pop, modern and traditional status. Although one could get lost in their sound, as a crowd we were guided along during their final song Excuses, by lead singer Chris Chu, who waved his maracas like a conductor’s baton. Not long after, audience appreciation reached a high as Chu roused a round of sing-a-long to their “da-da-da” loops.
It came as no surprise when Mercer later took a moment from Broken Bells to question the crowd, asking; “D’You guys like The Morning Benders? We do” following up with the supportive affirmation “We vouched for them!”.
From start to finish, energy was the X factor for the evening and played a symbolic role in the visual display. A collection of astro-imagery projected onto a backdrop which consisted of pulsing orbs, stars, static and samplings of the album’s art work. The display created an illusion of movement and “space”, cascading over a jam-packed stage of immobile equipment, instruments and talent.
Touring a ten track album made for a short show which wrapped itself up in a tight hour. That’s not to say the set list didn’t steer away from the album’s song titles. High Road was third on the docket, in sight of Trap Doors and Vaporize. It was during the second last song when girly squeals escaped me as Mercer unleashed a breathy, orgasmic-moan into the microphone and veered off to cover Tommy James and the Shondells’ Crimson and Clover (later remade by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts).
The encore introduced Insane Lullaby, another delightful deviant from the album. The cover was originally written by Danger Mouse and as James affectionately credited; “good friend”, Markus Linkous of Sparklehorse. The night ended with fan favourite, October. The hit made for a satisfying send off, rich with quality lyrics whose words lingered as the venue lights rose and the spacey images slowly faded.