Broken Bells at the Commodore Ballroom

Review and photos – Broken Bells at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, May 26 2010

– Ria Nevada review/Jason Statler photos

When you combine the forces of Danger Mouse, aka Brian Burton, and long-time indie-rock veteran James Mercer of The Shins, expect great things to happen.

Citizens of Vancouver knew that they could not miss this epic collaboration and flocked to the Commodore Ballroom on Wednesday night to witness the very first tour of the newly appointed supergroup, Broken Bells.

Berkeley’s the Morning Benders open with songs from Big Echo

But before its appearance, the Morning Benders meekly set foot on stage. The Berkeley, CA band had stopped in Vancouver only a few months back  and now returned to charm its devotees with melodious love songs off of their latest record, Big Echo. Romantic and cheeky sentiments were relayed in the performance of “Wet Cement”, the most mellow and, in my opinion, most enchanting tune from the set. The throwback vibe of “Excuses” had all the lovers coupling up as lead singer Chris Chu crooned, “You tried to taste me, and I take my tongue to the southern tip of your body”.  The suggestive lyrics paired with Chu and company’s boyish smiles had quite a few of their admirers trying to hide their excessive blushing. The Morning Benders’ uptempo numbers, “Dammit Anna” and “Cold War”, allowed fans to get their groove on, evoking the doo-wop and surf music trends of the late ’50s and early ’60s. If that didn’t do the trick, the hip-hop-flavoured bass lines added by Timothy Or in “Promises” reeled in the last of the wallflowers in the audience.

Broken Bells’ ‘Crimson and Clover’

Broken Bells grabbed our attention with the psychedelic “Vaporize”. Gospel organs and sporadic trumpet playing, completed the ’70s aura. The old school math and astronomy videos blasted on the stage’s backdrop also made for a trippy experience. Burton emerged from behind his drums to play the guitar on a few urban soul numbers before positioning himself on the keyboard to accompany Mercer on the subdued, experimental number “Citizen”.  The man is clearly a master of all the musical trades he dabbles in.

The energy in the room was lifted with “The High Road”, an infectious, dance-inducing tune that allowed Mercer to reach the higher register of his vocals, proving his effortless talent.  The soul train continued as DM drummed the “Billie Jean”-sounding intro for “The Ghost Inside”.  The ’80s beats and digital clapping possessed even the band’s supporting instrumentalists to hop around the stage in unison with the audience. What followed was hands-down the best rendition of “Crimson and Clover” that I had ever heard.

The band infused the rock ‘n’ roll classic with a punk edge, completely revamping it for a modern audience without losing its original appeal. “Mongrel Heart” allowed Broken Bells to take a more experimental turn. The former could be described as a musical stone soup, infusing Gregorian-chant style vocals with synthesized melodies and distorted guitars, and delivering tasty results. The unlikely pairing of Mercer and Burton (besides Danger Mouse, he’s also known for his work in Gnarls Barkley) proved to be a tremendous success. Their creations embraced and celebrated their musical diversities, proving that some risks are definitely worth taking.

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