If the name wasn’t already being used by another PacNW band, I would venture to say Broken Bells could have been named Modest Mouse. This band was so tight, so entertaining and so humble that is was a little surreal. First of all you’ve got James Mercer, the lead singer of one of the most influential indie bands of the past decade, The Shins, standing stage left instead of front and center where you’d expect him. Then you have one of the most influential and arguably most talented artist/producers of our time, Danger Mouse, in the background…on drums. This line-up was filled out by the 5 other unexpected musicians on various instruments. Danger Mouse did switch it up from time to time…coming up front to play the keyboard and even switching over to guitar, but never once did he try to take the spotlight or even look at the crowd.
This band had no right to sound so good and make it look so effortless. Sure, Danger Mouse and James Mercer are seasoned veterans of the indie rock show, but to perform so well with a full 7-piece band after being together less than a year? That’s just unheard of.
We got to The Gothic pretty early and entered the venue as soon as the doors opened. This was a first for me, but I was there with my wife and wanted to get one of those balcony seats for this show. We were lucky enough to get 4 seats for ourselves and the other couple we went with. This was a perfect show to watch from the comfort of our own little space with a server delivering drinks the whole time.
The show opened with The Morning Benders and they were the perfect opening act. Not great by any means, but since I got over the shock of them being young Asian kids at SXSW, I was able to sit back and enjoy their set. It was a little heavy on the mellow songs (I heard a girl outside say there music would be good to listen to at home while crying and masturbating), but they ended it with a bang and left us ready for the main act.
I wasn’t sure what expectations to have for Broken Bells. Every once in awhile an album is released that I listen to once and discard even though there is a lot of hype around it. But then I come back to these albums and I wonder how I could have missed the genius there. Bon Iver‘s For Emma, Forever Ago, The National‘s Alligator, Tom Wait‘s Real Gone and now Broken Bells‘ Broken Bells. I love this album, but to be honest, it’s not an album I would really need to see live. But I heard a live broadcast from the Shores at SXSW and then I heard everyone rave about their live set and I just had to check it out. The ticket sales for The Gothic show (which sold out within a week) reconfirmed that this was a band to see live.
By the time the first song ended, I knew I was in for a great show. They sounded like they do on record, but they had energy that cannot be felt through stereo speakers. Danger Mouse‘s afro shadow on the backdrop, James Mercer giving a shout out to his parents and sister who were in the audience, having a full band onstage and the designs and light show all added to the incredible Gorillaz meets U2 meets The Shins meet Gnarls Barkley soundtrack. A soundtrack that included material from their only album as well as a couple covers. One of these covers, Crimson and Clover was dedicated to James‘ sister ‘because she hates this song!‘. I guarantee she was the only one in the audience who hated this version!
The show ended with a Danger Mouse wave. It came a little earlier than I would have expected, but it was appropriate. A simple ending to a simply amazing show.