Menomena packed the house last night at the Luminary Center for the Arts, with a three-act bill that was damned close to perfect.
It's rare that two relatively unknown opening acts are treated with more than casual disinterest, especially when opening for a band that commands repeated listens like Menomena. But each band was engaging in its own way. The Globes opened and delivered metal-edged math rock with scaled-back vocals and impressive instrumentation, despite its members' tender ages. The Seattle band's insane guitar gluttony was still resonating when Tu Fawning took the stage with a lone guitar and a shitload of tricks up its collective sleeve.
The crowd seemed divided between overt dislike* and newfound love for Tu Fawning during its set. The quartet opened with a smash, with all four members of the band playing tambourine down-tempo for "Multiply a House." Tu Fawning's adventurous style went beyond genre-bending to downright bizarre, something like spiritual dirges from an alternate future -- a future so retro, phonographs are in style instead of vinyl.
Joe Raege's effects on his mic sounded like an old radio program from the '30s, while expressive lead vocalist Corrina Repp shone on the sweltering hymn, "I Know You Now." Keyboardist Liza Reitz provided creamy harmonies and mechanical drum blasts from her synth. A drum machine, sample loops and an array of unexpected instruments -- an amplified violin, extra-long trumpet, melodica and a number of percussive toys (yes, one cowbell) -- lent Tu Fawning's songs a sepulchral hollowness.
And then came Menomena. As expected, the majority of the set was devoted to material from 2010's Mines, but the band also played crowd-pleasers such as "Evil Bee," "Muscle N' Flo" and a diabolical rendition of "The Pelican." No matter what your opinion of Mines, it was impossible not to enjoy Menomena's gentle raging and understated bombast.
The band played every song fairly straight, save for drummer Danny Seim's occasionally jarring off-octave harmonies. To his credit, though, he shone on "his" songs, like the melancholic opener "Tithe." Some people were just born to hold drum sticks, and Seim is clearly one of them. He plays with his eyes closed as if in a meditative trance; the fact that he delivered his vocals (almost) flawlessly even while beating out complicated rhythms is a testament to his talents.
Menomena gets beaucoup points for difficulty, but the band made its Byzantine arrangements seem absurdly simple, with all but Seim handily trading instruments. Brent Knopf handled keys and glockenspiel, while Justin Harris played guitar, baritone sax, loops and a bass note pedalboard.
Seim introduced "Dirty Cartoons," saying, "And now for a song about suicide," which only furthered my belief that it's ripe for a cinematic death scene. "Queen Black Acid," the killer first single from Mines, was similarly funereal They joked about enemas before playing it; Harris quipped "Consider this next song an enema for your soul." "See, don't you feel cleansed?"
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