Nicest Man in Indie Rock

Another music review for Click & Dagger, but this time my review also got posted on KEXP’s blog!

Bands get tired of playing the same songs day in and day out. It’s a relief when a new album comes out, as it gives them a chance to play something new, to open a new door. But there’s a balance to achieve between playing those new songs that are enjoyable to them and playing those old songs that the audience wants to listen to. The crowd is fickle; they can turn on a band at any moment if they don’t hear what they came to hear. But clearly The Morning Benders don’t want to be tied to the past, and could care less about their past albums or what the audience may or may not be waiting for.

I arrived at the Crocodile with absolutely no expectations. My knowledge of The Morning Benders stemmed from exactly one fantastic video the band made in support of their new album. The video features the best song from the new album, but it’s not enough to base any overall opinions of the band on. Amazingly, the band played only songs from their newly released album, Big Echo, totally ignoring their critically acclaimed 2008 release, Talking Through Tin Cans. There were some great highs, some dour lows, and an amazing finale featuring the only song I knew. It was a short set, coming in just under an hour long. And there was no encore, nor were there any excuses as to why they didn’t play any older songs. I couldn’t have been happier; I got to experience the show like everyone else in the audience, collectively losing our Morning Benders virginity.

Christopher Chu, the bands’ principle songwriter, singer, and lead guitarist, does not give the initial impression of a commander. The band’s outward appearance leads you to believe they’re a bunch of geeky misfits who found each other at a Mathletes competition. Their set started out so quietly, half the audience thought the band was still tuning their instruments one full minute into the first song. But the tempo and volume picked up, reaching a climax where the band (both guitarists, the bass guitarist, and both drummers — yes, two) were animatedly slamming and strumming on their instruments, drawing the audience out of their conversations to stare at the spectacle on stage. Once you’re sucked in, you realize the appearance is intentionally misleading. They know how to rock, and they can prove it.

The band — all of them miked — adeptly played and sang backup to Chu’s lead. I feel compelled to say that Chris Chu’s voice reminded me of a voice I hadn’t heard in 15 years — that of Josh Clatyon-Felt from the early-90’s band School of Fish. I don’t expect you to have the same connection, as I’m pretty sure I was the only person to listen to them, and certainly the only person to actually remember them. But the connection was there, and unmistakeable. All of the instrumentation was fairly straightforward, excepting for the fact that the keyboardist also played a drum, effectively doubling the beats of the main drummer. He even occasionally played that drum with an Odwalla bottle.

Warming up to the audience, Chu coaxed the near-capacity crowd into dancing a bit longer after they played a particularly bouncy number. “I’m seeing some pretty good dance moves out there. You’re all looking very attractive and intelligent.” It would be easy to take such blatant flattery as being a little sarcastic, but coming from Chu you just couldn’t deny his sincerity.

After playing nine of the ten songs from their new album, Chu announced their next song would be their last. It felt like it was ending too soon, so we all assumed they’d go through the usual ego-stroking encore bullshit. Thankfully, no. The band said it was their last song, and indeed, it was. If only more bands would be so honest with their audiences. They finished their set, quickly left the stage and waded through the crowd over to the merch table to hock the new CD.

John Vanderslice (another favorite of mine, who is featured in the video linked above) better watch out — somebody is gunning for his “nicest man in indie rock” title. Inadvertently being the first one in line to pick up the new CD, I discovered I only had $11.50 when the new CD was being sold at $12. “I can give you a CD for that, no problem. I don’t even want the 50¢.” And with that, Chris Chu ever-politely patted me on the shoulder and said “Enjoy!” Smiling sheepishly, and feeling a bit embarrassed by my cheapness, I quickly carried the CD out the door and into the cold and wet night.

The Morning Benders will be back in town on May 25, opening for Broken Bells at Showbox at the Market. I’ll see you there.

(Originally posted at Click & Dagger and KEXP.)