The San Fran/NYC buzzband,
riding high on critically acclaimed new album Big Echo, plays to (and
occasionally, over) an appreciative crowd at the Mercury Lounge on April 22.
“It’s good to be home”, The Morning Benders’ front man Chris
Chu announced to a young, sweaty sold out crowd. Yes, he said “home”. Although the band
originated out in San Francisco (c’mon, you didn’t think that was Far Rockaway
on the cover of Big Echo, did you?),
Brooklyn is home these days, as it is for many bands that get lumped under that
giant genre umbrella known as “indie rock”.
The question of identity seems relevant in this case not for
anything as shallow as geographical pride, but because the New York/California
split pretty much defines The Morning Benders’ sound. Yes, Grizzly Bear’s Chris
Taylor co-produced the band’s sophomore LP, Big
Echo, but the Grizzly Bear comparisons will only get you so far.
Sure, both groups dig the Phil Spector (a bi-coastal man as
well) “girl groups” pretty hard. Put Grizzly Bear’s take on “He Hit Me (It Felt
Like a Kiss)” up against The
Morning Benders’ “Why Don’t They Let Us Fall in Love”, though, and see how
much more loyal the latter is. Where Grizzly Bear takes the Wall of Sound and
filters it (and just about everything else in their musical universe) through a
glass darkly, The Morning Benders merely darken the corners a bit.
Played live (albeit slightly out of sequence), Big Echo – released last month on Rough
Trade; see review here – is
hearts-on-their-sleeves, aching, swaying, crooning Pop.
No matter how much the Chu brothers and Co.
dress the songs up in reverb and that harsher, East Coast mentality, there’s no
denying the band’s sunnier roots. With opening band Miniature Tigers locking in
on the sound of The Kinks’ Kronikles-era,
the headliner solidified the balance between influence and innovation.
It’s retro done right.
The Morning Benders reached a bit further back into the late
1950s and early 1960s, armed with beneficial knowledge of the forthcoming
musical revolution c/o The Beatles. Compared to the band’s first LP, Talking Through Tin Cans, sure, these
songs could be considered more experimental. It might be more accurate, though,
to say the pop hooks are stretched out this time ‘round. And the best part is
watching The Morning Benders fill in the gaps they left behind.
Hence why the lone Tin
Cans track the band offered up, “Damn’t Anna”, feels to reverential, more a
nostalgic re-creation than a song filled with actual emotion. It’s fun, but
clearly inferior to what the band has been doing of late.
Joined by Miniature Tigers’ drummer Rick Schaier for the 50-minute
set, The Morning Benders were not too concerned in replicating the studio
density of Big Echo. “Excuses” (which
became a show-closing sing-along) and “Nice Clean Fight” stood up as sparser
efforts. Unlike so many younger bands (or hell, so many bands in general), The
Morning Benders know a thing or two about setting levels, which helped
highlight many elements that may have wound up a little buried in the big
sounds of Big Echo.
Even with all the reverb (something Chu,
especially, seems to love), the band produces a very clean live sound, which
was evident from the get go in the ambitious opening jam that became
These songs have teeth, and as soft as Chu
and the rest of the band look, they are more than capable of tearing through
your eardrums when the occasion calls for it.
In fact, aside from the brevity of the set (understandable
since they have essentially started anew with Big Echo), my only complaint was that they didn’t let loose a
little more here and there, if only to drown out the audience. The crowd was
exceptionally talkative, which meant before/after and during songs, enduring
gems like, “The Twilight movie
soundtrack is the most legitimate movie soundtrack this year. Thom Yorke is on
it.” Or “I’m on Facebook every fucking day”.
Lest cynicism creep in, some of the chatter cut to the heart
of things. Before the band launched into “Nice Clean Fight”, one girl was
audible near the stage. “I love talent,” she said.
Photo Credit: Matt Jacoby