Broken Bells Marquee Theater 4/10/2014 There's a line from the LCD Soundsystem song "Drunk Girls" that resonated through Broken Bells' show last night at the Marquee Theatre: "Drunk Girls know that love is an astronaut / It comes back but it's never the same." It was clear that the duo, consisting of The Shins' frontman James Mercer and producer Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton, were, in a way, telling the story of that forlorn astronaut in the song, a man haunted by the memories of lost love.
The plot of the astronaut's story wasn't entirely clear to anyone watching. The band's series of YouTube videos starring "Star Trek's" Anton Yelchin and Kate Mara and written by Burton doesn't help matters, but the visuals from the films directed by Jacob Gentry (best known for 2007's The Signal) provided a pleasing motif for the band to draw from as they went through one more practice run before their appearance at Coachella.
Psychedelic visions of the spaceman's girlfriend appeared in the background as the track "Mongrel Heart" was played onstage. It wasn't clear if her dead spirit was haunting the dreams of our space explorer or if she was waiting for him back on Earth. As he traveled inside a pink spaceship that resembles a lamp that you would find at IKEA, the story unfolded visually by MRIs imposed over a space helmet and sonically through Mercer's melancholy vocals and his partner's lush soundscapes.
The attempt to even tell a story only proves that Broken Bells isn't simply a collaboration between two talented musicians who are trying to move beyond their musical comfort level. It's artists working together to tell a story that is a cross between an Arthur C. Clarke novel and a less campy version of the film Barbarella. Unlike Burton's other project Gnarls Barkley, his famous rap group with Cee-Lo Green, there's something more personal coming through his bag of gimmicks and tricks. Mercer is more than his mouthpiece. They stand together as equals, and it showed during their performance.
Burton proved he's more than just an adept producer of high-profile albums for musicians desiring an edgy sound, as he sat down and laid down grooves on his guitar one minute and sat behind a drum set the next. A computerized ocean with sonic waves flowed with every note Burton played on his keyboard. This got the crowd cheering during a rendition of "Sailing To Nowhere." The biggest clue to the mysterious futuristic plot comes from the lyric of the band's final song before their encore, the popular "The High Road." Mercer sings with melancholy that he doesn't "know of the dead can talk to anyone," perhaps referring to the fate of the astronaut's girlfriend. As the three female members of the opening band Au Revoir Simone hauntingly sang backup, it was apparent that her spirit talks to and inspires Burton and Mercer.
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If Broken Bells was accused of hijacking disco for their new album, Au Revoir Simone stole the best of new wave with their synthesizers. The favorite band of director David Lynch moved onstage under purple lights behind their Casios and drum machine as if they were performing at the dreariest prom ever. It was the smiles on their face that proved to the audience otherwise as they danced and swayed to their three-part harmonies and peppy keyboards. It appeared they had broken free from the dark film director's grip and discovered even Siouxsie and the Banshees had fun once in a while. Au Revoir Simone's closing song, the early hit "Shadows," served as a reminder of their dark past.
Last Night: Broken Bells/Au Revoir Simone at the Marquee Personal Bias: I thought the self-titled debut album of Broken Bells was interesting but would not endure. I never thought there would be a second album or a tour. The crowd: College kids, hipsters, and the frosted tips of Scottsdale youth Overheard in the Crowd: "Is that from their Washington show?" -- drunk guy attempting to compliment me on my Radiohead shirt. It was from Chicago.