Live Review

Menomena, Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen

The result, unique to the live performance, is an eternally animated stage.

Portland, which is in the state of Oregon, which is in the United States, has recently found itself teeming with talent as regards contemporary music. The city is prodigal home to groups such as YACHT, Hockey and The Helio Sequence, bands which, at the very least, berate convention and attempt to amend the manner in which music, and lyrics, are heard and perceived. As fellow Portlandanese musicans, Menomena can readily be seen as patrons of the creative fraternity, nurturing a reputation both for intrepid videos based in actual reality shows and the use of regal, oversized keys. Indeed, the closest they come to adherence with any particular recognised genre of music is their use of musical instruments, and, even when these are used, they are at the whim of no particular members of the band, who flit regularly between them. The result, unique to the live performance, is an eternally animated stage, and a body of songs driven by the band’s will to experiment ceaselessly with their melodic ability, through whichever medium is optimal, and their propensity to present emotion in deceptively trinket lyrics, rather than any ready-made, generic or tested form of rhythm. While tonight’s performance, a dry run of tracks from upcoming third album ‘Mines’, is no extraordinary feat in comparison to the choirs and additional musicians seen in previous live sets, we do leave assured that the unfettered style and spirit of the past two albums remains very much alive, resonated with no less power or skill in person.

Without a word, and playing this gig without the buffer of a support band, Menomena take the stage, cruising with purpose into the new ‘Queen Black Acid’, a sombre, slow-burning revelation following a flurry of euphoria, resulting in a greater awareness, even wisdom, as demonstrated by the track’s neat, abrupt end. Justin Harris plays bass with a distinctly casual ease, while Danny Seim’s virtuoso percussion is pushed into a somewhat military order. What follows is a well-considered, locomotive setlist, far from mindless and intent on portraying a cogent image of the band’s mindset at the moment, organising new songs those more familiar accordingly. It becomes apparent, as further new material is played, that Mines is, essentially, far more mature and composed than the writings that came before it, indicative of reflection on a worthy body of work. The band still hold an iconoclastic streak, similar to that flaunted by Max Tundra, though do not sound like an 11-year-old’s diary entry if you were to give an 11-year-old LSD. Consequently, we are treated to a slower, brooding tempo and mentality throughout, a mentality retorted by the older songs. Here, for instance, ‘Queen Black Acid’ is followed, eventually, by the pondering ‘Wet and Rusting’, where Brent Knopf, playing keys and synth, is shown to have relinquished issues suffered relating to the pitch of his vocals, to render the slowly rousing, and then suddenly prolific, furore of the track all the more tangible.

It’s clear, moreover, that the band have yet to shrug off a certain crude swagger to their live performance, adding an improvised quality to some of the songs played tonight, alongside an already unorthodox structure in places. Perhaps, however, this is what’s good about them: Menomena, to their credit, are far from static or conceited on stage, constantly in motion and in conversation with the crowd. In this sense, the band are never as brittle or erratic as many other groups. The demeanour we see tonight, furthermore, is never evidently detrimental to their performance. ‘Weird’, for example, the short, sharp and untenably tuneful blast of question and argument, is translated perfectly live, with the mediating xylophones and Danny Seim’s mechanic drums intact. Justin Harris’ fibrous saxophone, to add, complements the morbid testimony of new single ‘Five Little Rooms’ and its reference to some clearly toxic legacy, held up by Brent Knopf’s tender keys. Shortly after, Seim rises from his kit, picks up a guitar and plays new track ‘Dirty Cartoons’. And yet nothing seems strained or forced in this, bearing no sign of novelty. The relative calm we see in the new songs is, again, fought off by ‘Rotten Hell’, the somewhat religiously charged tribute to motivation and progress, almost beaten out of Seim’s marching percussion and an eternally low, crouching bassline. Closing with an incredibly tidy rendition of ‘Evil Bee’, the most operatic account of the ordinary male servant bee’s everyday life ever written, and an encore comprised of a blues jam centred around Justin Harris’ shapely jeans and the desolate, unsettling ‘West’, the general consensus around us is one of childlike glee. It’s an impression most likely elicited from a combination of the snug size of the venue, the intuitive mix and order of new and old songs, and the simple fact that Menomena, thankfully, give a certain amount of faeces about what their fans enjoy to hear.

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