Menomena show features dueling bands
Apart from reality shows such as American Idol, live musical performance is rarely considered a competition, and concerts are usually about fostering a communal spirit, not pitting group against group. But at Portland, Ore., band Menomenaâs show at the El Rey Theatre Thursday, it almost seemed as if the bands were competing to see who could incorporate the most unusual instruments into their act. Â Â Â Â Â
Openers Tu Fawning set the bar high, performing slow-building, rhythm-based, atypical anthems using an eclectic mix of instruments. The four-piece band of multi-instrumentalists blended pounding tribal drums, tambourines, guitars, keyboards, percussion and soaring vocal harmonies. The members effortlessly switched among each of these instruments, displaying their wide range of musical talent.
As far as the multi-instrumentation competition went, second act Suckers were overqualified. Lead vocalist Quinn Walker held a drumstick in the same hand he held his pick, occasionally beating a floor tom and cymbal throughout the first few songs. He also played various other percussive instruments and demonstrated his jerky, flailing dance moves. Drummer Brian Aiken also played synthesizer.
Although each of the band members was obviously talented, it often seemed as if the numerous layers of different sounds added too many unnecessary, overwhelming noises that didnât actually improve the music that much.
A few of the bandâs songs did have the crowd excited and dancing, or, more accurately, awkwardly jerking and flailing like the singer. The rest of Suckersâ set, however, grew stale as the songs began to sound similar and the barrage of instrumentation nearly became headache inducing. The band closed with the triumphant song âIt Gets Your Body Movinâ,â providing a strong end to an otherwise uninspiring set.
As soon as headliner Menomena took the stage, it was clear why it was chosen as the nightâs lead act. Instead of a chaotic mess of layered instruments clogging up the sound and stage, the members of Menomena dominated the stage by themselves.
They used a wide variety of different instruments just like the other bands, but they used them sparingly and effectively. Drummer Danny Seim played a dominating drum kit located at the front of the stage, along with various percussive instruments, including a slightly creepy pair of baby doll heads with shakers inside. Bassist Justin Harris also played baritone saxophone, and all four band members shared singing duties. The bandâs atypical song structures and use of varied instruments seemed sincere, not like a forced and overused gimmick.
For such a relatively young band with unorthodox song structures, Menomena has a fairly decent following. The audience was actively engaged in the show, shouting out requests and cheering loudly. The crowdâs biggest reactions came during more popular songs such as âWet and Rustingâ and âMuscleân Flo,â but the band was able to keep the crowdâs attention throughout its entire set.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Menomenaâs live shows is its ability to recreate the incredibly complex material found on each of its albums. Although much of Menomenaâs material is dense and complicated, the band was able to precisely play songs off many of its albums.
Early in the set, Harris informed the audience, âA few of us arenât feeling well tonight.â
Keyboardist Brent Knopf jokingly asked the crowd if they could tell that they werenât feeling completely healthy, but, in reality, nobody could tell the difference.
The band was still highly energetic and entertaining. And if there was any competition at the El Rey last Thursday, Menomenaâs commanding stage presence and accurate recreation of interesting and complex songs definitely took home first prize.