Broken Bells released an excellent album with striking lyrics and well constructed melodies that are virtually impossible to dislike -– no wonder the Showbox at the Market concert sold out in less than a week, even with a pricey $35 per ticket. Following the release, James Mercer and Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) brought their first official North American tour to Seattle. Up until now, the only US dates were a mini tour that started before the album came out and continued for a little while, including SXSW just eight days after their self-titled album hit the stores. With them for this proper tour, The Morning Benders brought their summery tunes from Berkeley, CA, to the Showbox.
With a set heavily based on their fresh-out-of-the-oven Big Echo, The Morning Benders members Christopher Chu, Jonathan Chu, Julian Harmon and Tim Or played a delightful 45-minute set. The band sounded great, and having The Shins as one of their influences, it was not a surprise to hear from Mr. Mercer himself during the main set saying that he likes the quartet quite a lot. “Wet Cement” and “Excuses” -- switched from first track on the album to concert closer -– worked beautifully live. Chu asked the crowd to sing along to the “da-ram da-ram” part of the last song and the request was promptly obliged. Oh, the joys of good pop music.
The setlist on the Broken Bells’ earlier promo tour was as predictable as it could be, composed by all the tracks of the CD -- in order. That expectation was destroyed at the Showbox this night the moment their crew brought actual setlists while setting up the stage. If someone happened to miss that, “Vaporize” was the first song played and it was followed by “Sailing to Nowhere” (numbers 2 and 5 on the record, respectively). Goodbye, back-to-back album concert. Not that it would be a bad thing at all.
Seven members, including Mercer and Burton, form the live band. Most of them took turns on keyboards, drums and guitars -- Danger Mouse was a busy man playing them all and doing backing vocals. James Mercer’s voice sounds so strong and familiar, which was probably why every now and then an “I love the Shins!” could be heard from the audience. Their first single, “The High Road,” was a highlight of the set with its extended instrumental at the end. It seemed they chose to play the slower songs first and speed things up towards the middle of the performance, starting with the forthcoming second single “The Ghost Inside.” All the ten songs from the album were played, the last one before the encore break being “The Mall & Misery,” also the closer of Broken Bells, with its heart-meltingly beautiful intro. It was interesting to see the songs being crafted in real time and the at times 4-guitar arrangements that make those rich melodic effects on the record. The surprises were the cover of 60s hit “Crimson & Clover” by Tommy James & The Shondells and “Insane Lullaby”, the collaboration between the duo and the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, for which Danger Mouse was the producer and Mercer shared the vocals with Linkous. It opened the encore portion with only James on guitar/vocals and Burton on the keyboards before the rest of the band came onstage and joined in halfway through. During the whole show, projections of galaxies, psychedelic sequences and art inspired by the album concept were displayed. They gave a special touch and reinforced the spacey vibe of the project without overpowering or distracting from the music.
Mercer thanked the crowd smiling occasionally, Danger Mouse just waved timidly on his way out, and the band left everybody wanting more. There was one more song to be played according to the setlist called “Hold On”. They probably ran out of time because they skipped it and closed with “October”, so, they are welcome to come back and solve the mystery of the un-played song. Their set felt a little too short anyway.
The Morning Benders: