Broken Bells - Marquee Theatre - 4/10/2014

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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."

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Jason Keil was the Phoenix New Times culture editor from August 2019 to May 2020.
Contact: Jason Keil