Sunday, April 1, 2007


anyone who knows me, follows my adventures in blogging or has had any conversation about music with me in the past few months knows how much i've gotten into Menomena recently. i only first heard them about 6 months ago, at the suggestion of my friend Rob. at that point, they'd only put out one album proper, but it was enough for me to eagerly await their second, Friend & Foe, which was released this past january. i posted a review of said album here.

Rob and i snagged tickets for their friday performance at Johnny Brenda's in Fishtown - Philadelphia's new bohemia. fortunately, my boy acted early enough as the show sold out at least a week prior. we got there circa an hour early and ordered a few beers. i'm a fan a Johnny Brenda's. the crowds are always mellow as hipsters always say excuse me when they bump into you. additionally, they seem to repeatedly secure the performances of many quality indie bands who come through town as well as some of Philadelphia's finest local talent. the venue is quite intimate. if you can see the stage, even from the balcony, you can't be more than 20 feet from it.

the opening band was Montreal's Land Of Talk (Field Music was also scheduled but apparently dropped out of the tour). i've only heard of them from a few places, but always in a favorable light. i wasn't disappointed. they were a three piece, drum set front and center with the bassist on one flank and the female lead singer/guitarist on the other. she sang in a sweet tone (though a little mumbled), even when she got more aggressive. accompanying and complimenting were some heavier and nicely executed beats and a series of driving bass lines. she had a nice voice, balancing between PJ Harvey angst and Chan Marshall sweetness. good energy with some rawness on the guitar. it was fun. i would've picked up their EP, Applause Cheer Boo Hiss, if i'd had more cash on me. they said they're in the mixing process of their first album so maybe i'll get a hold of that when the time comes around.

in the 20 or 30 minutes that followed their departure, we weaseled our way closer to the stage. we managed to get about 2 people deep from the front and staked our claim. from there on out, we took turns with runs for drinks.

after setting the stage, Menomena erupted through the room with "The Pelican". with all the mania of Animal, drummer Danny Seim pounded his drum kit mercilessly with his giant arms (after the show, i realized he literally towered over me and my 6'3" frame). he truly was relentless. even more impressive was that i had assumed that some of the complex drumming was produced electronically. Seim proved me so very wrong. its hard not to swagger a little with drumming that intense. apparently, impossible for me. for the most part, other than vocal harmonizing and a couple songs as lead vocalist, his role was that of the drummer and i've seen few fill the shoes better. Justin Harris and Brent Knopf, on the other hand, wore many hats. they all took turns singing. Knopf spent his time behind a keyboard, a laptop, a glockenspiel and a pair of microphones, all while strapped to a guitar. Harris began almost every jam with a different instrument in ready, be it bass, guitar, alto saxophone or tenor sax. in nearly every song, Harris and Knopf switched between what they had available to them. honestly, i didn't think a trio could pull off the density of the tunes found on their albums live, at least not without the aid of any recorded loops or studio trickery. once again, i was proved so very wrong. i've seen few bands that were as unified in their collaboration. while one dropped his guitar for a saxophone, the other would take over without pause of lull. during "Weird", Harris alternated between the mic and the sax while stomping a deep bass mantra on some sort of keyboard at his feet, Knopf repeatedly jumped back and forth between the keyboard and fretboard while belting out harmony, before concluding it all with the xylophone twinkling on the glockenspiel. and all the while, Seim, in perfect head bobbing form, murdered the drum kit. it truly was astounding. they ended their set with "Rotten Hell". the studio version showcases the assistance of a choir. as no choir was in tow friday night, they brought the singer and bassist from Land Of Talk back on stage. they shared the amplified bell of the alto sax. after the melodic chaos of the crescendo, they stepped off stage and through the back door .

a couple minutes later, Menomena returned and performed a single encore (something i've never seen any band do at Johnny Brenda's). they chose "Monkey's Back", Knopf's loudest and most emotionally fervent vocal contribution to their first album, I Am The Fun Blame Monster. the song starts off distant and haunting, only to built into a wall of sound capable of crushing any man, even one the size of Danny Seim.

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