There were a lot of factors working against me loving The Morning Benders' show last night at The Basement, but none of them swayed me from my stance that these guys are among the most talented young bands touring and recording right now.
First complaint: The Basement. Unless you nudge your way into the pit area (which I did, thankfully), you can't see a damn thing. Also, the faux graffiti venue logo behind the stage is pretty hilarious. Furthermore, why was the sound guy struggling so much to avoid feedback last night? I usually enjoy seeing shows at the LC and the Newport, but I feel like Promowest is taunting me every time I step inside this ill-conceived alcove.
The Morning Benders are just the sort of band that would sell out The Basement, a sleek and poppy young indie rock band with enough internet buzz to drown out the jeers of someone like Chris Lutzko. The sharp-tongued Unholy 2 frontman often disparages an indie rock scene that has become a teeny-bopping parody of itself, and covering a Fleetwood Mac song with quivering loins and a boyish grin is the exact sort of thing that lends credence to his barbs.
The thing is, for all their cardigan sweaters and chamber-pop femininity, The Morning Benders rock. They're total masters of their craft, able to turn set closer "Excuses" from a maudlin ballad into a warm-hearted a cappella singalong into a noisy, climactic wall of sound without breaking a sweat.
Their rhythm section reigns supreme, bass and drums locking into smooth, sophisticated grooves with punchy accents to keep you on your toes. The Chu brothers expertly layer a vast array of guitar and keyboard sounds over this fine foundation, sometimes content to keep things light and airy but just as often unfurling dense soundscapes. Like primary influence Grizzly Bear, they're shockingly adept at driving prim and proper pop into a caveman lurch before your eyes.
Speaking of Grizzly Bear, let's talk about influences for a sec. All music is a product of its influences, but so many of today's fresh-faced indie bands seem like cut-and-paste amalgamations of last year's hype fiends. The Morning Benders toe this line. You could easily write up a formula: 2 parts Grizzly Bear elegant hipster, 1 part Vampire Weekend exotic prep, 1 part Shins repressed nervous tension.
But they amount to so much more than the sum of their parts. This is a band with a vision and a voice — four voices, actually, deployed in stunning harmony more often than not — and they slayed last night, as much as a cute little indie rock band can slay.