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It’s not enough to say that Menomena is just another experimental indie rock band from Portland that uses a saxophone on a couple songs and has some popular animated music videos on YouTube. The five musicians on stage tonight at the Brighton Music Hall have so much talent between themselves that is unfortunately not represented on their recorded albums. What is fortunate though is that there is still a way to have a well-rounded understanding of who Menomena is, as more than just a band behind an album cover: experience them in person.
Opening for Menomena was PVT (pronounced “pivot”), an electronic trio from Sydney, Australia. These three men all had gorgeous hair, comforting accents, and noticeably focused faces throughout their short set. Most of their songs were either loud and fast, or loud and slow, which is not necessarily a bad thing. PVT’s music is great to close your eyes to, nod your head, and take a few moments to relax while the scalp-tickling beats roll around the room. A lot of PVT’s songs seemed to stroll from start to finish without many sharp transitions, which is different from Menomena’s methodic movements within each song. Like every great opener should, PVT woke the crowd up with a warm breath of life, in preparation for who was to come next. After PVT’s set, and a prolonged changeover between bands, it was finally time for Menomena to hit the stage.
There seemed to be a fair amount of devoted Menomena fans at the show tonight, so it was no surprise to me when the energy level of the crowd was tangibly thickened upon the arrival of the band onto the stage. Justin Harris stood like a fearless naval captain at the front of the stage with his white pants on and saxophone in hand. Within the first three minutes of the show, he was playing his brass beauty and it was so cool to watch how the wild screams of the crowd only seemed to calm him and set him into his groove.
I know that the band probably doesn’t care to have this discussed in too great of detail, so I won’t take long, but you need to know about Paul Alcott. He primarily played keys, sometimes acoustic guitar, and sometimes floor tom, but regardless of what he was playing, he was dancing, and dancing hard. I saw him more as an afro’d hype man than an accompanying musician because so much of his contribution to the band’s image came from his head-banging, arm-waving, leg-shaking dance moves. Paul Alcott was present at the show this Saturday in a way that he could never be on Menomena’s recorded music.
One of the most attractive things about the band is their casual yet focused approach to performance. Two of the guys in the band had vans sneakers on, the drummer was barefoot, and everybody was wearing tee shirts. The crowd banter was unforced and comforting, most of the hair on stage was unkempt and free, and the smiles between band members were not hidden or covered up. Because there is so much more going on at a concert than just what comes out of the speakers, it is nice to see that Menomena has found a great approach to live performing that fits their creative style well.
As the show went on and the crowd was obviously pleased with the setlist, it was great to watch the energy really spike during the last three or so songs of the night. The crash and snare were hit harder, the guitar amps were pushed louder, and the vocal performances were filled with more emotion during the final few songs — and that’s not always easy to accomplish. The band was able to deliver a loud, rockin’ show for the first 45 minutes, and still had the room, ability, and energy to aggressively throw their closing songs right into the crowds collective face.
Justin Harris and Danny Seim are incredibly well matched together. Their vocals are deep and full without having to conform to traditionally spineless pop melodies, their bass guitar and drum grooves are unpredictable and polished in a way often unseen in today’s indie bands, and their lyrics are touchingly honest without being too blatantly suggestive. Menomena has so many good and exciting things going for them and it’s nice that a band which might be disregarded as too easily classifiable, can still offer something to its fans with their truly great live show.