Sunday, February 24, 2013

Menomena delivers smashing sing along to enthralled crowd at Mercy

Portland indie rockers Menomena have been through considerable upheaval since losing guitarist Brent Knopf  in early 2011, one of the major creative cogs in the band. Fortunately,  it hasn't changed the fact that they are still one of the most creative and innovative bands in indie rock today, and their live performances continue to kick ass. If anyone doubts that the band is still teeming with life and vitality, their set at Nashville's Mercy Lounge Saturday night is just one more piece of evidence to toss onto the pile.

Justin Harris provides propulsive rhythm for Menomena.
The first ingredient in their magic spell is stage presence. Justin Harris possesses a stout, muscular build; all eyes are on him as his leonine hair splashes about while he plucks the strings of his bass. He projects a very serious demeanor  In contrast, drummer Danny Siem is tall, gangly, and long limbed. He presents a laid back and free spirited persona onstage, a trait that also provides an apt description his drumming style.

He's like a wizard that sits in front of a kit and conjures the perfect rhythm to drive forward his band's distinctive style. Each hit gives his sticks tremendous bounceback off the pads, providing him with the kinetic energy needed to to deliver a performance full of thunder and passion. And he's always moving around the kit, cooking up something creative, so that even when he is playing a basic beat it still seems dynamic.

While Siem's rhythms provide an invaluable foundation, the rest of the band lays down a varied tapestry that makes up the backbone of the Menomena's sound. There are splashes and flourishes of guitar here and there, but the instrument often serves as more of a mood generator as opposed to actually taking the lead itself.  Keys, pianos and Harris's saxophone fills out the structure of most songs, but ultimately it is the catchy and addictive vocal melodies that seal the deal. The evidence was on display in the Mercy Lounge crowd, as the whole front row joined in wholeheartedly, pouring and singing their hearts out.

Their subject matter is also varied and diverse. Many of their lyrics focus on the knotty tangle that often forms between men and women over sense and sexuality  "Don't Mess With Latexas," builds a story around a morally questionable bedroom encounter.

"Heavy is as Heavy Does," one of the best songs from last September's Moms album, is a brooding piece focusing on the deterioration of a relationship between father and son. The tripped out guitar feedback/distortion section near the end provides a great complement. And they closed their main set with the adrenaline blast that is "Taos." It wows with its swaggering sense of braggadocio, only to turn reverential in the second half. A dynamic drum fill and moving piano chords complete the experience.

Danny Siem drums, sings, and powers Menomena's engine.

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