Live Review: Broken Bells Lift Spirits and Throw Confetti at the Masonic

Broken Bells at The Masonic Oct. 28.

Broken Bells
With Austra
October 28, 2014
The Masonic

Better Than: watching the Giants get shut out during Game six of the World Series.

I found myself early on in the evening slouched upon the hard floor of the newly renovated Masonic, now one of those high-ceiling music halls selling $7 Coors light and $10 Anchor Steam beer-braised chicken tacos, after being politely instructed to scoot down to the floor instead of balancing haphazardly on the edge of the VIP platform (showcasing a plethora of empty and quite tempting plush seats I might add). I listened to Austra, the opening band. A fine collection of musicians echoing a more upbeat version of Beach House. The lead singer belted with a deep voice and the swaying backup singer (evidently band dancer as well) caught my eye with his drifting and loose movements, which might have been better fit for a day at Woodstock. All in all a prime opener for the well-anticipated Broken Bells.

[jump] There were three others in my same predicament, sitting cross-legged and defeated below the forbidden VIP border, and I decided to lean in for some insight on Broken Bells:

“I listen to a lot of music, and you know how you have that one band where you know all of their songs and listen to them over and over? Well Broken Bells is one of those bands for me,” a petite hipster told me with a look of serious intent, brushing away the dark curls from her eyes. Then there was the matching pair of shaggy-haired and bearded youngsters that looked like they just longboarded off the beaches of Santa Cruz, who told me in all honesty they were just there following around the Shins star (also lead vocalist for Broken Bells) James Mercer, hoping to get some more earfuls of those outstanding guttural chords.
So far, the venue seemed pretty lacking in what I would imagine a Tuesday night crowd to look like (which isn’t much to begin with). I was steaming with jealousy as I looked above at all the empty seats in the gigantuous box level and started scheming on how to slip in unnoticed. I then remembered the Giants game and its likely imminent downfall — since last I checked it was 7-0 Royals leading in only the second inning. Plenty of faithful fans and mostly bandwagoners were still dressed in their orange and black garb with sparkling Nike sneaks…and thensome of the more hip San Franciscan folk with their ankle boots and black tights and red flannels. Plus those four out-of-place drunken late 50-somethings commenting on my incessant “journaling” while spitting out a monologue of what I should write in my diary about how much fun I was having. I digress. It was quite the jumbled group last night.

Latecomers finally stormed in and filled the place up completely with their moody baseball-driven temperaments. And then Broken Bells played a few notes with some notable bad-ass drumming as well. So I scrambled up off the floor, grabbed my diary and $9 plastic cup of Chardonnay to catch the first glimpse of this impeccable duo and their two accompanying band members.
The multi-faceted Brian Burton, better known as Danger Mouse, kept pulling the old switcheroo — he floated from keyboard, to bass, and then drums as their similarly ethereal songs continued on. There was a giant galactic projection to go along with their symbolic space theme, and more instruments than I could count were poised onstage, untouched, waiting to be used. Broken Bells' tunes are unlike anything I’ve ever heard. I’m not tech-savvy, but the synthesizers and trippy sounds coming out of those speakers were an art form all on their own. Mercer and Burton were the epitome of calm, cool, and collected. They made it look so effortless. I know every man in the audience holding back their swooning ladies wanted to be them last night. The bassist/keyboardist and starting drummer/later vocalist/guitar player (aka the other two band members), were extremely overzealous in contrast. Some wild head bobbing definitely happening in the back there, but talents in their own right as well.

Danger Mouse is a man of a few words, so Mercer announced to us that this is the last show of the tour and how glad they were to be here. Then a wannabe groupie cried out “We love you!” I cringed and cheers ensued. The band played a solid two-hour set — definitely every song I set out to hear.
During “Citizen,” the first of the three-song encore, the audience had some classic lighter action happening as they waved their prized Bics in the air. I was distracted from the open flames near my locks to see something worse about six inches from my face as their very last song “Holding On For Life” began. It was a giant cone confetti cannon about double my size, pointed right at me by an equally as tall white-haired man with a single braid hanging down to his belly button. My initial thought: He must be with the band. Then I scooted away before the silent explosion of confetti showered the audience. It was actually quite magical — like a fresh snowfall blanketing us and the two glimmering silhouettes on stage.

“I’ve enjoyed touring this year more than I’ve ever enjoyed touring,” James Mercer concluded, with Danger Mouse standing by his side. They lifted their drinks high in the air and cheered to all of us. Shoulder to shoulder, the pair turned to exit into the deep cloud of flickering colored paper drifting high in the air.

Critic's Notebook

By the way: This was the last show of their tour (in addition to being James Mercer's best year of touring, ever). 

Quote of the night: “I’m just a worker ant, don’t stab me.” — Bossy security man

Random detail: A woman doing the jig in a foot-high feather headdress and an equally obnoxious white fur coat.


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