The last time I saw The Morning Benders was just under two years ago when they opened up for the Kooks when I wrote this review:
Openers The Morning Benders seemed like a perfect match in terms of the demographic of the audience. Comprised of four innocuous looking young men with perfectly poppy tunes, the Berkley quartet were probably loving all of the supportive whooping coming from the audience. However, after the show the lead singer caused a giant clusterfuck along the exit path as little ewoks huddled around him asking him to sign their CDs and chit-chatting with him. Gasped one girl to the other, “Ohmigod, it IS HIM!”
Some things have changed since then: while The Morning Benders still hold on to their pop roots, they’ve graduated into a grand choral sound full of harmonizing vocals and reverberating guitar distortion. You can’t help but wonder how much of that change has to do with Grizzly Bear’s bassist/producer Chris Taylor, who lent his talents to the production of TMB’s newest LP, Big Echo. But no matter what the origin for the shift in the band’s sound, there’s no denying that the result is stellar.
The Morning Benders have successfully synthesized the rarely occurring combination of making music that appeals to both geeky music nerds and 16-year-old girls. But what’s most unusual is that unlike so many other groups in the geeky music nerd/16-year-old girl cross section (MGMT, LCD Soundsystem, Beyonce [ironically]), TMBs don’t rely on tons of synthesizers and dancey hooks to reel in their audience.
Instead they lean on their innocent baby faces and mild manners retain their core group of fans who fell for the pop pedigree sounds of their first album, while letting their new sound captivate a more mature, less estrogen-fueled fan base who got a taste of them while opening up for Grizzly Bear and Ra Ra Riot.
They also tap into an underutilized marketing tool in indie rock — the power of the Asians. Everyone knows that little Asian girls love indie rock music (take a look at the front row of the makeup of any poppy British band and tell me I’m wrong), and now they finally have their very own set of dreamy Asian-mom-approved guys to pine over. But what about the white dude on the drums? It’s A-OK my friends, the internetz tell me that just like white people like Asian girls, Asians girls like white dudes.
Time to add the Chu brothers and Tim Or to the great pantheon of other Asian dude rockers — like James Iha and… uh… that Asian guy from N.E.R.D.?????
The front rows of the show were of course filled with wide-eyed girls ready to soak in the cuteness of the wholesome young quartet. This fact was in no way lost on the band, with dreamy frontman Chris Chu playing up to the fans, initiating sing-a-longs (“Excuses”) and then towards the end of the set he slid off the stage and into the crowd to sing directly to the ladies as they huddled around him with big smiles on their faces.
While songs like “Sleeping In” and “Stitches” come off as mild-mannered jams when listening to the album, live they take on a new (rockin’) life, with the band’s passionate playing adding an extra edge to these pleasant ditties.
TMB’s played a few songs not off their new album — most notably an older song called “Damnit Anna” and a new song they claimed they’d never done live before, “Go Grab a Stranger.”
Before ending the set Chris mentioned to the crowd that the band would be at the merch table after the show, and as I was heading out the doors I saw a gaggle of blushing girls lined up around Chris, each patiently waiting to say a few words to him and/or ask to take a photo, with the young frontman dutiful obliging — clearly this band knows where there bread is buttered.
Openers Holiday Shores are clearly enjoying the popularity of chillwave, with their Vampire Weekend-esque, Paul Simon-loving, beachy tunes. Live the band was slightly disjointed (with some of their band members unable to make the show for undisclosed reasons).
While some of the tunes were a success, there were a few the fell flat — all the more not helped by the one dude in the band standing in the center of the stage wearing Adidas Sambas who distracted everyone with his solitary job of hitting one cymbal with one drumstick — or sometimes when he was getting mad crazy, TWO drum sticks. The poor lead singer, positioned off to the side behind his keyboard had the tough job of bringing the attention back to it’s rightful place — his own power dampened by the unfortunate Mr. Rogers sweater he selected to wear over his tropical print button down shirt. (Yikes!)
But fashion faux pas aside, it would be nice to hear this band to take the pretty solid foundation and shake things up a bit. Hmmm… maybe they should take a note from the Morning Benders’ turn from mild to major in the short span of two years.