Broken Bells at the Music Hall of Williamsburg
by Chris Hadley
I was introduced to Broken Bells by the best episode of NPR’s All Songs Considered podcast that I can remember, which included new tracks by some of my favorite current bands: Local Natives, Yeasayer, Freelance Whales and, of course, Broken Bells. Bob could just as well have opened the show with, “Hey Chris, here is what you’ll be listening to for the next four months.” People often ask me how I find out about new music, and without fail the first thing I tell them is All Songs Considered.
Broken Bells certainly looks good on paper: Danger Mouse, a veritable behemoth of a producer, and James Mercer, the singer/songwriter behind the The Shins. I loved the first single, “The High Road“, immediately. It has a distinctively Shins-y feel, for Mercer’s voice is beautifully unique, and the production is naturally exquisite, with Danger Mouse’s identifiable fingerprint. The collaboration reeked of a dynamic duo, and although I was eagerly awaiting the release of the album, as the show grew closer I found myself too goddamned busy every night and kept forgetting to listen to it, so I eventually decided to avoid doing so. I wanted to go into the show as blind as possible, which is what I did.
Going to the Music Hall of Williamsburg is like having a dream about the Bowery Ballroom. It’s so much like Bowery, and in your dream you know you’re at Bowery, but it’s terribly confusing and there are rooms that look like the outside but are actually the inside and there are staircases all over the damn place that lead to sections of the venue that you didn’t even know existed. I’ve only been to the Music Hall a few times, and every time it’s an adventure trying to find the floor of the venue. But we did, only a few minutes before Broken Bells took the stage.
I was a little worried that much of the texture of the live show would be sampled or produced from a recording, and was mighty relieved to see seven people walk out on stage. They formed a musical assembly line, each guy doing his little bit to form a wonderfully full sound. The visuals were simple, a projection over the entire stage, band and all, with seemingly aged imagery that often played off that spiky pink globe that they appear to have adopted as their logo. The show exhibited a generally modest atmosphere, which was pleasantly surprising, given all that Danger Mouse and James Mercer have accomplished at the indie level.
The first few songs sounded very much like each other, and just as my interest began to wane, they played “The Ghost Inside“, at which point I started dancing a bit and taking notes so I could locate that song later. Broken Bells effectively found their groove, which reminded me at times of David Bowie, and I ended up loving the show and wishing it hadn’t ended so soon.
I’m a sucker for a good cover, and there’s no better time for a clever cover than the encore. I don’t know that I would have opened a show with my most recognizable song, as Broken Bells did with “The High Road”, but playing it at the end of the set or for the encore is just lame. So Broken Bells comes back after a short post-set breather and plays Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down“, much to the enjoyment of many folks in the audience. Then, just as Mary and I were putting our coats on, James Mercer walked to the mic and sang, “Aaaahhh”, and right away I recognized it as one of my favorite songs of all time: “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James and the Shondells.
The show was quite good, the encore fucking incredible. There is some top-notch music being made right now, so please for the love of god get out there and see some of it.
More photos from the show and some limited tour dates after the jump.
Broken Bells 2010 SXSW Tour Dates
Mar 17 2010 Stubbs BBQ – NPR Music Showcase Austin, Texas
Mar 19 2010 Lustre Pearl – Dickies Official Showcase Austin, Texas
Mar 20 2010 912 Red River St – MOG Party at SXSW Austin, Texas
Broken Bells at MHOW (03/10/10) by Jon Klemm