Live Review: Broken Bells with the Morning Benders at 9:30 Club, Washington DC – 07 June 2010

By on Wednesday, 9th June 2010 at 2:00 pm

Take two stars of the music world – the Shins’ James Mercer and Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) – and let them go to town making music. Good reason the Broken Bells debut album
(you can read my review from March here) was one of the most anticipated album of the year. The two played nearly everything on the album but to take this ‘project’ on the road, Broken Bells becomes a seven-member band. And a strong one at that. They appeared at a sold-out 9:30 Club Monday night.

The Morning Benders, the support act for the night, are a young Californian pop/rock band. Their latest album released this year, ‘Big Echo’, was produced by their lead singer Christopher Chu and Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor. So it’s safe to say that if you live on ‘Veckatimest’ and songs like ‘While We Wait for the Others’, you should check these guys out, because chances are you’ll dig them too. A nice-sized crowd had assembled for their set. Chu realised this early on, thanking us with a winsome smile at regular intervals and even going as far as asking the audience, ‘do you want ‘Hand Me Downs’ or ‘Pleasure Sighs’?’ (naming two choices of song from ‘Big Echo’). Come now. How often do you see democracy in action at a gig?

Personally, I prefer my rock to have a bit more bite and my pop to have more hooks. But never mind me. Judging from the unbridled squeals of delight from the crowd (ow, right in my ear!) and the massive singalong of ‘da dum, da dum, la da da da dum’ erupting in their set closer ‘Excuses’, I’d say they also have a relatively young-ish and devoted fanbase in Washington. Good thing too, because they’re supporting Dan Auerbach’s Black Keys at Constitution Hall in July and will return for a headlining tour of their own in the autumn.

I had no idea how many people would be needed to create the Broken Bells live sound. Even before anyone got onstage, you could see there was a lot of equipment. (Just so you know, the 9:30 Club stage is massive.) Mercer played guitar and sang lead vocals and Burton alternated between the drum kit and a keyboard placed center stage. But with them were five other talented musicians providing guitar, bass, electronic drumming, keyboards, organ, synths, and trumpet. An ever-changing, psychedelic backdrop behind the players was an interesting yet not too disturbing visual element, which was nice because except for standing or sitting still in rocking out, this isn’t an especially animated live show.

This is not to say that it wasn’t a good show; I thought it was an ace night, perfect for chill, lounge groove rock music. But if you’re looking to bounce off the walls, this might not be for you. My favourite of Broken Bells’ debut album is ‘The Ghost Inside’: awesome hook, groovy melody, spot-on lead vocals from Mercer. (They recently released a video for the song ‘The Ghost Inside’, starring ‘Mad Men’ actress Christina Hendricks as an android. Watch it below. ) Evidently, the track was a favourite of many at the 9:30 Club because it easily got the most cheers for the evening.


The band surprised with two covers, surprisingly stellar versions of Tommy James and the Shondells’ ‘Crimson and Clover’ (beginning with a high-pitched yelp from Mercer) and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ ‘You Really Got a Hold on Me’ (after which Mercer grinned, finally looking truly pleased with the band’s reception in Washington). There was also a ‘preview’ of ‘Insane Lullaby’, from the forthcoming Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse’ collaborative album effort ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ to be released on 12 July. The night ended on a high (no pun intended) with ‘The Mall and Misery’, complete with an extended instrumental version of ‘The High Road’. I hope this side project becomes a primary (or more permanent) project because I definitely to hear more from Burton and Mercer.

The Morning Benders Photos:

Broken Bells Set List
Your Head is on Fire
The Ghost Inside
Sailing to Nowhere
Crimson and Clover (Tommy James and the Shondells cover)
Trap Doors
The High Road
Insane Lullaby
You Really Got a Hold on Me (Smokey Robinson and the Miracles cover)
Mongrel Heart
The Mall and Misery (with instrumental version of ‘the High Road’)

Broken Bells Photos:

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