Live Review: Broken Bells, The Morning Benders @ The 40 Watt, June 11

By Micah McLain

Although it makes me feel more and more like Kenny Crucial each time I go, the 40 Watt in Athens is still one of the best places to see bands that usually play venues at least three to four times its size. The Morning Benders opened the evening at such an unusually early set time that their performance had ended before I walked into the small bar at 10p. When Broken Bells took the stage in front of the sold out crowd, former Athens resident Brian Burton (AKA Danger Mouse) headed straight to the drum set in the back, where he would remain for the majority of the performance. James Mercer, acoustic guitar in hand, led the seven-piece touring band as they jumped straight into beefier versions of cuts from their self-titled debut LP. The music of Broken Bells seems like it was made to be played via headphones in your bedroom as opposed to a humid, crowded bar in the South; a discrepancy the band attempts to make up for by employing three (and sometimes four) guitars on stage. What the music loses in intricacy it more than makes up for with the surprisingly addictive guitar leads.
Standout songs from the night included the synth-filled “Mongrel Heart” and “The Ghost Inside,” with the latter’s hip-hop and hand-clap beat thriving in a live environment. Burton stepped out from behind the drums to man the keyboard on several songs including lead single “The High Road.” Since the band only has one album of material at this point, the crowd was also treated to an extended psychedelic version of the oft-covered “Crimson and Clover” as well as the classic doo-wop staple “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me.” One of the most memorable moments came when Mercer and Burton, on acoustic guitar and keys, respectively, played a touching song they had written with their late collaborator Mark Linkous. The hushed crowd listened as Mercer repeated the chorus of “a good life will never be alone” in his trademark falsetto. Another high point of the evening was a lively version of album (and show) closer “The Mall & the Misery.” The acoustic guitar and symphonic opening led into an aggressively-played punk guitar riff and solo that carried the song through its entirety. As the rest of the band led the crowd in an energetic, extended jam session, Mercer and Burton let their guitars slip off their shoulders and walked off stage amid flashing lights and space-inspired artwork on the screen behind them.


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