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Menomena w/ Parson Redheads and Bon Savants

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Saturday, 17 March 2007
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The last time I went to L.A.’s Echo was to see Spankrock, and by “went,” I mean to say I didn’t see a show. After standing in line in what was the coldest weather to hit the area in decades, and standing for what felt like an eternity at an ungodly hour, I decided to challenge my friends to a duel: rock, paper, scissors came to mind. My paper beat rock, and the victory decision was that we leave the dank sidewalk to greener pastures.

The aforementioned wait tested my patience, the possibility of not getting tickets on stand-by seemed to me like expectations lost. But off to the Echo I trod last Saturday, able to traverse past the entrance into the small space of an ex-family restaurant. I was set to see three bands whom I had never heard previously, but heard good things about: openers Parson Redheads and Bon Savants, and headliners Menomena. And once again, expectation became a common thread for the night. The anticipation of a live show is a formidable force, one that requires special attention and a healthy amount of welcomed anxiety, and the prospect of seeing an unknown band for the first time is similar to a duel like rock, paper, scissors in that almost all of it is based on chance. I was hoping to receive some good luck, but I only discovered mediocrity.

Made up of a disproportionate seven members matched in white attire and red accents, Parson Redheads is a saccharine-folk collective. Although I am forced to invariably compare them to the polyphonic spree based on proportion and color, the band were intriguing for the fact that—apart from the sweet and subdued songs—the flooded stage seemed synchronous in sways and spastic shifts. What on Earth was compelling these adults to react with such vigor? The collage of folk harmonies and agreeably happy melodies that emanated from three keyboards unearthed a schizoid scheme between form and content. Sure Parson Redheads were a country-twee jam band, but the sound said nothing of a super-group. What with all the frivolity I was hoping for a change of scene. One could only be optimistic.

Sustaining the uniformed dress code of the night, Boston group Bon Savants took their turn in appropriate coat and tie. Except their professional demeanor was unforgiving, unable to eclipse a heady nostalgia that seemed only to promise two things: bad French and bad English. In covering Joy Division’s untouchable “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Bon Savants neither sparked my interest in 80s post-punk nor peripherally challenged Ian Curtis’ anguished psychosis. In their misrepresentation of Prince-like falsettos and fiercely awkward guitar solos, Bon Savants refused to transcend the latter half of their name.

My last hope was in Menomena, on tour in support of their latest album Friend and Foe. Menomena as a word is just as hard to pinpoint as it is easy to roll off the tongue, and in describing the band’s live performance one comes across a similar disagreement. Although the band didn’t abide by the same homogenous apparel as the opening groups, the Oregon-based trio seemed to make the most of their contradictions. With each member masterfully devoted to a respective instrument, Menomena presented a volatile collision of rhythmic textures, a disparate patchwork of miscellaneous instrumentation, harmonizing in a maelstrom of somewhat unbalanced musical presentation. Separately they would have sounded great, together they were only good. Not having heard the group’s music prior to the show, I was impressed to find the members’ interest in computer-generated beats and saxophone meanderings—the band masterfully made use of a live set that showcased Brent Knopf’s computer-programmed drum looping. But as soon as I was beginning to enjoy myself, I was struck by the inevitable loss of communal sound the band tried to etch. With all the different rhythms they were hoping to invent, Menomena remained a cadenced pastiche. I couldn’t find a coherent melody or harmony, rather taking notice of the individual tools of trade. Last night, I became neither friend nor foe. This time my paper lost to an unexpected pair of scissors.

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