Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Concert Review: The Morning Benders at the Black Cat

The Morning Benders @ The Black Cat
March 11, 2010

The morning benders played a sold out show at the Black Cat on March 11. This band’s popularity came as a surprise to no one but the morning benders themselves. Throughout the incredible set comprised solely of songs off of their second album, “Big Echo,” frontman Chris Chu commented effusively on how thankful the band was for everyone in attendance. It is this earnestness which to me is the secret of the morning bender’s [lower caps intentional] inescapable charm. “Big Echo” marks a departure from their debut album, “Talking through Tin Cans,” the kind of sweet, innocuous indie rock which elicited some luke-warm comparisons to The Shins. Their newest release comes from the idea that a big shout produces a big echo, and this album marks the transcendence of the pleasant small echo of "Talking Through Tin Cans" to the loftier reverberations of their own big echo. For this album the benders explored Phil Spector’s concept of the "wall of sound," adding an inescapable depth to the more doleful melodies.

This album feels much darker than the rest of the morning benders canon, one that includes an album of gentle covers ranging from Roy Orbison’s “Crying” to the Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel”. From these charming and thoughtful covers it is clear that the benders have sweetness down, while “Big Echo” shows that there is much more complexity lurking behind their endearing facade. Their newfound darkness is intriguing, “Big Echo” at times comes off like a breakup album, however the actual breakup is nowhere to be found. Perhaps this new edge is the result of the band’s move from the golden-lit breakfast nook that is Berkeley to the urban indie mecca of Brooklyn. Regardless of its source, this melancholy allows a new perspective on their tremendous musical and lyrical abilities. The despairing aspects of this album definitely manifested themselves in the delivery, Chris Chu introduced “Mason Jar” by telling the audience “This is a darker song, but I think you can handle it, you feel pretty dark to me.” I would call morning benders fans anything but dark, but I believe we were all more than willing to fake it, at least for a few minutes.
With the unfortunate expansion of emo, melancholy has become some sort of badge for amateur musicians which is as ubiquitous as skinny jeans; however the morning benders are nothing if not completely sincere. The emotions of this album are not there to sell records to brooding teens lamenting the injustices of high school, they are thoughtful, unobtrusive, and an intrinsic part of the bender’s genuine sensitivity. That is not to say this is an album to shed hot, salty tears by, their pained thoughtfulness is often obscured by the blitheness of the melodies. The reverberations of Big Echo were all-encompassing, giving audience members the feeling of being inside the gloried “wall of sound." By the end of this show I was sure of one thing, earnestness aside, the morning benders have the musical abilities to blow your mind. For the next album they may have to consider getting some capital letters.

-- Tiare Dunlap
"Girl, Please," Fridays 4-6 pm on WGTB

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