Friday, July 13, 2007

menomena - south street seaport - 7/13/07

were i a superstitious mammoth, i might not have gone to this show tonight. but, thankfully, i do not suffer from paraskavedekatriaphobia (stump your friends! amaze your enemies! define that word!). the show tonight, simply put, was AWESOME. rarely have i been to any show, free or not, that has matched their acts with such foresight and aural appreciation. i have gone, in the span of a few mere hours, from not knowing beat the devil in the slightest to cursing myself for not being in the country for their july 26 show at the cake shop - that's how good they were.

this week's show was infinitely better than last week's, on basically every level. i made sure to arrive early, as i was super psyched to see menomena live for the first time, and i was sure it would be crowded (it was. menomena themselves declared it was the largest crowd they had ever played to). though there was some jostling and repositioning from behind annoyingly tall people, by and large, it was a comfortable show, physically. when i was younger, i had the conceit that, no matter what gig i went to, i would know someone there. well, i gave that idea up ages ago, though it still sticks in my mind every time i go to a big/free show (i.e., last week's bts, any river to river gig), and, wonder of wonders, i ended up knowing a girl standing directly behind me. will wonders never cease. anyway, enough chit chat. on to beat the devil.

from the moment singer shilpa ray took the stage with a large snow shovel in her hand, i figured we were in for something good. my excitement only mounted as bassist mishka shubaly marched through the crowd with what is presumably beat the devil's mascot - a marching bass drum with beelzebub's unholy gob painted on it, beating the thing with maracas, no less. despite the song's lack of a melody, or anything besides ray's voice, her snow shovel, and mitchell key's drums, it spoke volumes about the potential for beat the devil's set - potential they lived up to and surpassed.

beat the devil's sound reminded me most of the dresden dolls (albeit with a serious blues bent), and was driven by ray, who did double duty as vocalist and harmonium player. unfamiliar with a harmonium as i was (i only learned its name from the press on beat the devil's site), i can only say that it looks like an accordion, cut in half, and lain down on a table (is lain the correct past participle of lay?). she pumped away on the harmonium throughout the show, creating a sound that seems repetitive at first - a regular drone, very similar to the sound of an accordion - that would give beat the devil an almost folky sound, were it not for the regularly scheduled breakdowns that make their live show a hit. ray's voice alternates between raw vocal chords-inducing screaming and dark bluesy suggestiveness with total unpredictability, especially for one unfamiliar with the beat the devil sound. though key and shubaly are important to the band, it is obviously ray who drives it, whether endlessly pumping the harmonium, screaming herself hoarse, or dancing around on stage. the best song came in the middle of the set, blissfully heavy, that had two kids in the audience raising the traditional metal salute in honor and rocking out. ray thrashed about, her hair a virtual halo from the movement, all while keeping her left hand pumping the harmonium's bellows and her right pressing the keys, a study in musical multitasking.

beat the devil was a perfect precursor to menomena, as both bands take great joy in their vitality and the importance of musical surprises. though beat the devil operated with far fewer instruments than menomena, they kept their sound fresh throughout the set by taking each song in a different direction. i wish i could see them again on the 26th - it will definitely be worth it. i'm going to stay tuned to beat the devil, because whatever they do next will be worth paying attention to.

ah, menomena. how i was looking forward to your set, and how was i rewarded. i'm going to list my grievances now, and get them out of the way. 1. why was there no "airaid"? what the fuck, menomena. that's like the 2nd or 3rd best song off friend and foe - how could you have overlooked it? 2. where the fuck was the encore? it wasn't river to river's fault - fujiya & miyagi went until 10 last week, and your set ended at 9.30. are you like tool, do you not play encores? cuz that's fucked up. everyone wanted to hear more songs - i would've liked "airaid" (obviously) or "running." i disapprove, especially because you mentioned how much you liked this crowd several times, and new york. new york would've liked you more, had you encored.

that being said, new york liked you pretty fucking plenty - you played a great set, menomena. i can't remember what you opened with, but your second song was "the pelican," the first song i liked off friend and foe, the song that made me think that my initial disapproval was selling you short. and, man, did you guys nail it! i had no idea all three of you were vocalists, and when danny seim started singing, while pounding on his drum kit, i was totally shocked. but it made perfect sense - i had always assumed the full, strong vocals on the record were a result of great production, when it should have been obvious that other people were singing along with you, justin harris. brent knopf's guitar was just as jarring and angular as i had hoped, and the vocals were much richer in a live setting.

menomena, you played songs from i am the fun blame monster as well as friend and foe, bringing a new depth to all of them. i was more familiar with your friend and foe material, but "strongest man in the world," with its a.d.d. instrumental beginning, captured (in a nutshell) the essence of menomena, a restlessness that clearly comes through with the spastic drums, the abrupt fade-ins and -outs, the lazy arrogance of the guitar lines, the determined and resolute piano. no two menomena songs sound the same, because you can barely hear the connections within one song - it's almost as each section of the song is cut and pasted from an arbitrary elsewhere. i know a lot of fuss has been made about your "deeler," the digital looping recorder that you yourselves invented, but i couldn't really tell which parts were looped and which weren't, except, of course, when none of you were playing. your instrumental versatility - justin, how you switched seamlessly between bass, guitar, and baritone sax, and brent, how you would play keyboards with your guitar swung around your back. your set, though not as long as some would have preferred, was jam-packed with everything that makes you my favorite band of the moment, and that has kept friend and foe on constant rotation since march. "rotten hell" was superb, "my my" was great. "the monkey's back," the set closer, was amazing. but what made me happiest was "evil bee," my standout favorite off friend and foe. how touchingly did brent sing "oh, to be a machine / oh, to be wanted, to be useful" - i taped it, and you can see the video below, along with another for "strongest man in the world." you can see all of my videos from the show here, including two from beat the devil and two others from menomena.

in short, menomena was outstanding live. danny seim especially impressed me the whole set through with his energy and enthusiasm on the drums, but the whole band was fantastic. i can't wait to see them again, and maybe with an encore this time?

buy friend and foe here.

menomena - "evil bee"

menomena - "strongest man in the world"

No comments: