With so many shows happening in late October, it was hard to get real excited about seeing Menomena at The Bluebird last night. My mind was elsewhere, looking forward to the Lucero/Social D show, The Walkmen w/Japandroids and local indie darlings Tennis and of course, The National on Monday!
I saw Menomena a couple times back in 2007 and they were good, but they weren’t great. Back then Friend & Foe was one of my favorite albums and their live shows just didn’t live up to the material on the album. The first experience was at Cafe du Nord and the place was too packed, the stage too small for all their equipment and I was with a friend who did not appreciate the music and wasn’t afraid to voice that opinion! The second time was at The Independent and was a much better show, but it also had it’s problems…the biggest being that the band did not look like they were having fun. They traded energy for precision. The music sounded perfect, but the guys on stage did not interact with the crowd. It was like watching someone work. The sign of a good show is when you leave with your adrenaline going and I left this show tired.
Those past experiences, compounded with the fact that I don’t much care for half the material on the new album made me apprehensive about this particular show.
We had dinner at Tommy’s Thai across the street before heading over to The Bluebird. Dinner went quicker than expected, so I got into the venue in time to see the opening act, Tu Fawning. Another Portland band that includes Joe Haege of Menomena on drums. I was really impressed with their set. Like Menomena, all members are multi-instrumentalists and at one point one member was playing a trumpet from the middle of the venue. This mixture of indie rock/folk/carnival music was highlighted by the blonde lead singer who sounded like Florence Welch channeling Fioana Apple . Tambourines, horns, maracas and even a melodica made for an interesting set from a band I had never heard of.
We positioned ourselves right in front of Danny Seim‘s drum kit and realized from the very beginning that this is a percussion-led band. Having the drums at the front of the stage is key. They started out with Tithe, a song sung by Danny himself. It always impresses me when I see a drummer singing. I think I’m a pretty good multi-taker, but this kind of thing blows my mind. This song from the new album also made me realize that I prefer Danny‘s voice to the other members of the band, who all share vocal duties.
The main set switched back and forth between material from the new album and Friend & Foe. But the biggest difference between last night and those shows in 2007 wasn’t the addition of new material, it was stage presence. These guys have a personality I have never seen before! There was a laptop on the stage, there was a saxophone and plenty of other potential distractions, but the transition between instruments, vocal duties and songs was fluid. They even told stories and joked with the crowd about Casa Bonita, the fact that they ‘weren’t at Hi-Dive anymore Danny!’ when he wasn’t on point for BOTE, and even mocking Kings of Leon with ‘your sax is on fiiiiire’ when the borrowed saxophone made it’s entrance. This was a completely different band from the one I saw 3 years ago. A band that had matured.
They covered all my favorites from Friend & Foe with the exception of Rotten Hell and they even made me a believer in the new material. My biggest problem with Mines is that I feel it lacks that Menomena signature. That hurkey, jerky style with unique time signatures. That classic Menomena sound is gone. There were times when I was listening to a random playlist and would have to look at my iPod to see what band it was…something I would have never had to do with their previous albums. But the seeing the material live made me realize that it’s still Menomena, but like their show, it’s just a smoother, fluid Menomena. The only downer of the night (in my opinion) was Sleeping Beauty. I still find that song boring.
The encore started with West from Friend & Foe and ended with the sole Fun Blame Monster song, Strongest Man In The World.
I left the venue in a great mood. My adrenaline wasn’t pumping like I’m sure it will be after The National on Monday, but I wasn’t tired either. The show exceeded my expectations.