Traveling into Williamsburg is exactly what everyone tells you it is. Rich kids litter the streets wearing clothes that are ripped to such hipster perfection that you know they had to pay top dollar. That was pretty much the crowd for James Mercers new outing Broken Bells. Expectations were high considering we have not heard from Mercer since 2007s Wincing the Night Away. This is, of course, not leaving out the other half of this amazing duo, Danger Mouse, who appears to pop his head into everything that sounds good these days.
Considering that Broken Bells’ debut only dropped this past week, and this being their first show in the city, it was hard to gauge exactly how the band was going to translate in a live setting. Opening act Plants and Animals played for a short amount of time. The trio from Canada wailed through a decent set, however, something seemed to be lacking. They sound like a band that hasnt figured out exactly what kind of music they want to play. With long jams and high pitched harmonies, they showed potential, but moreover presented themselves with an overarching lack of confidence.
Broken Bells’ set up was intense. A myriad of keyboards spread sporadically across the stageleaving the crowd to speculate just how many people were actually in this band. Once Mercer hit the stage around 9:40, with Danger Mouse in tow, six others joined them and answered the aforementioned question. Boy, were they tight. They had the stage presence of a band that has been playing for years. Everything was flawless. I dont say that lightly, either. And moreover, they were really into it.
There were smiles from the backing band when they closed their eyes and belted out the haunting harmonies of album opener, The High Road. During a cut of The Ghost Inside, one of the album’s stellar highlights, Mercers falsetto was unexpected but appreciated. Much like The Shins, Mercer’s work here is downright catchy, too. The Mall and the Misery has been stuck in my head for days. (You know it’s good when you wake up in the morning and your first thought is still a ringing of a song from the night before.) In hindsight, it’s odd because you hear influences of the Shins mashed up with the never predictable Danger Mouse, who seems to bleed of electronic grooves. The man does it all. Throughout the night, he switched up instruments, everywhere from the drumset to the piano, and even behind the guitar. He was just everywhere. You could tell he cared about being there, too, and that he was having fun. Mercer and Danger Mouse are quite the team, and together they blasted through the entire album, recreating every sound with practically no effort. What’s more, it all came off more natural than you would imagine.
There were no Shins songs to be heard tonight, because this was not a Shins show. This was Mercer showcasing something brand new. The only way you could tell that this was their first show was the fact that Mercer would often look to the other members to offer cues on when to start and stop. This just proves how meticulous he is about how he presents his music. The encore did include one surprise, a cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ classic Crimson and Clover. The whole audience was won over by a song that everyone knew the words to. It is hard to play a show only a day after your album drops — especially when the audience doesnt know every word — and when you come from a band that has a lot of credibility (at least from Zach Braff!). However, Broken Bells demands your attention, and as my friend put it after the show: Mercers fingers fly like airplanes through music. While it might have been stolen from Almost Famous, it seemed all too appropriate.