by Benjamin Lozovsky
Broken Bells, the new collaboration between producer extraordinaire Danger Mouse and Shins leader James Mercer, did everything that was expected of them Wednesday (3/10) at Music Hall of Williamsburg. A roundly good thing, unless like most live music fans, you come to a performance expecting the unexpected.
For Mercer and Brian Burton (Danger Mouse's real name), it was only their fourth show (they already played LA, Paris and London) together after a whirlwind musical courtship and friendship saw them create a stunning record of golden nugget mining 60s pop and psych rock. Brimming with melodious texture and refined emotion, the self-titled album released the day before the show is nearly spotless and blatantly thought through. For the majority of their set at Music Hall, the same rang true. But in a live implication, that translated into sterile, almost medically scrubbed renditions of all the songs from their first recorded effort. It was no small feat to reproduce such a nuanced and instrumentally rich work note for note, and the musicianship all night was stellar. But rock concerts aren't held in ICUs; germs and other unaccounted irregularities are encouraged.
The venue was dark, with dotted, drug-induced projections making up the entire lighting scheme. The album certainly has gloomy leanings, especially in Mercer's sometimes tortured vocals, but there are also mounds of joy clumped in there. With the exception of the lead guitarist and bassist, it was almost as if the band was hiding their lack of sentiment, obscuring their unease with playing the music on purpose. It wasn't necessary; hopefully Mercer and Burton realize as more shows unfold that they are readily capable of playing with precision and thoroughness, and that their skill will only shine clearer with a little dirt thrown over their pristine looking glass.
There was some pleasant filth present though. Openers Plants and Animals plenty soiled up the venue with their exciting identity crisis of stoner sludge-rock meets tainted indie crooning.
And after completing their album, Mercer and Burton came out together for an encore and performed a brightly paired down cover of Neil Young's "Don't Let It Bring You Down," followed by full band cover of Tommy James and The Shondells' huge hit "Crimson And Clover." They were faithful to both songs while taking thrilling liberties, with Mercer and Burton even showing uncharacteristic smiles throughout.
Coming up, both Broken Bells and Plants and Animals are heading to SXSW. Plants and Animals play six shows including a BV day party. Broken Bells play one big official NPR one at Stubb's with Spoon (3/17), as well as at least two more that have since been announced. On Wednesday 3/17 they're also playing an AOL pop-up day show with the location TBA that day, and they were added to the T-Mobile/Mog party happening March 20th at the Mohawk with the Black Keys also on the bill.
More pictures from Music Hall below...
Plants and Animals