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Story and Photos By Andy ArgyrakisNames like Danger Mouse and James Mercer certainly fall into the unlikely collaborations category, but when it comes to their time together in Broken Bells, there's no lack of chilled-out chemistry. For the artist/producer who's real name is Brian Burton, the tag team comes on the heels of teaming with Cee-Lo Green within the context of "Crazy" hit makers Gnarls Barkley, while Mercer's already found a milder degree of fame as member of indie favorites The Shins.
Though the group's self-titled CD consists of just the two players (with Burton on drums, synth, piano and bass, plus Mercer on vocals and guitar), the tour was fleshed out by five backers, which seemed like more people than the project's lo-fi, electro-indie explorations dictated. In fact, the majority of the 75-minute set was understated and generally serene, perhaps better suited for personal headphone listening, but enhanced with vibey background projections mirroring the album's cylinder artwork and abstract scenery in varying hues.
The warm tone was conveyed across the entire new album, from the old time piano romp "October," to the hypnotic "Your Head Is On Fire," the chugging "The Ghost Inside" and the sublime "Sailing To Nowhere." Throughout the night, Burton flipped between the drums, keyboards and occasionally the guitar, serving as the pair's strongest musical asset, though Mercer had no trouble stepping outside his comfort zone, especially on the Brit-poppy single "The High Road" and a soulful stab at the golden oldie "You've Really Got a Hold On Me" (originally cut by Motown group The Miracles).
While the set certainly had some energy lulls and could be dismissed as mere background music on occasion, the band was best when displaying thicker beats and improvisational experimentation. The hands down highlight of the evening was "Insane Lullaby," which was ironically not a Broken Bells cut, but a combined product of the late great Sparklehorse singer Mark Linkous, Danger Mouse and Mercer that started out sparse, but eventually stirred up a sweltering psychedelic groove. It was a fitting example of the pair's genre-blurring potential and ability to stir the soul while provoking rhythmically-enhanced reflection.
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