Friday, June 11, 2010

Abby Sunderland Found Safe; Morning Benders & Broken Bells at Center Stage; Celtics 96, Lakers 89

First of all, California teenager Abby Sunderland has been found alive and well, so there's that. Apparently, the Airbus spotted her first and saw that her boat was stable but had lost its mast. Rescue ships will reach her in a day or two and she will return to the U.S.

Jessica Watson made it look so easy - just hop in a boat and take off. Big seas, loneliness, cold - no worries, nothing a little spunk can't overcome. But stranded 2,000 miles from the nearest shore is no place to die and reminds us of how big this planet can be.

I made my own big trip yesterday, a four-hour drive back from Huntsville after a long day of meetings at the Army's Redstone Arsenal. I didn't get home until about 7:30 pm, and then just had enough time to wash up, turn around, and go back out to see The Morning Benders and Broken Bells at Center Stage here in Atlanta.

The Morning Benders are a four-piece indie-rock band out of Berkeley. They're all quite young, yet their music is surprisingly sophisticated and well-crafted. They were the opening act, but I think in a few years they will be headliners in their own right.

I really like their recent album, Big Echo - it's been getting a lot of play on my iPod. Here's the opening track, Excuses, to give you an idea of what their sound is like:

Here's their lead singer, Christopher, apparently sending laser beams into the audience with his eyes:

Their set started just a few minutes past the promised 9 o'clock starting time, a touch I appreciated on a weeknight after a long road trip. The band played most of the songs off Big Echo and closed with Excuses, with Christopher at first crooning the words, then leading the audience in a sing-along, and finally looping his own voice to sing all the multiple overlapping vocal lines that start at the 2:30 mark in the sample above. The band joined in and closed the song and the set with a big crescendo. An enjoyable set by an enjoyable band.

The main event of the night, though, was the Broken Bells, the collaboration of Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) and James Mercer of the Shins. They took the stage as soon as the set was changed over from The Morning Benders and began playing a little after 10, which, again, I appreciated after my long day.

I've posted a couple of Broken Bells videos on this blog before (see here), but here's one more anyway, for The Ghost Inside, featuring Mercer singing in a fine falsetto:

It was a great show. Mercer is definitely the front man of the band, with Mouse spending much of the time playing behind the band on drums. Occasionally, he played a little guitar to back Mercer up, but even then he stayed toward the back of the band. During one number, he actually had his back turned to the audience as he played.

Mouse also played keyboards during the set, but remained an enigmatic presence throughout the set, not speaking a word or singing a lick. He let Mercer and the band have the spotlight, and just, in workman-like fashion, filled in on whatever instrument was necessary for each song, which seemed a little surprising as they had brought a 7-piece band on the road with them.

They opened the set with October and to my surprise, they didn't save their biggest hit, The High Road, for the end of their set, but instead launched into it toward the set's middle. In addition to songs off of their debut album, they also covered Tommy James' 1960s psychedelic classic Crimson and Clover. The audience seemed to really enjoy the show, singing along with many songs and doing the double hand-claps at the appropriate times during The Ghost Inside.

For their encore, they performed another 60's classic, You Really Got A Hold On Me, the Smoky Robinson and the Miracles song that's been covered by The Beatles, among others (Mercer dedicated the song to Mouse's mother). They played it slow and soulfully, before closing out their set with Mongrel and The Mall and the Misery from their album.

The Broken Bells tour ends this evening in Athens, Georgia, and given that the two principals, Mercer and Mouse, have numerous other commitments, there might not be another Broken Bells album or tour. I'm glad, then, that I got to see them last night.

Of course, I almost didn't go at all due to road fatigue and the fact that Game 4 of the NBA Finals was on that night. Throughout the set, I kept peeking at my Droid to get updates on the score. After trailing L.A. for much of the game, the Celtics bench made a run and took a lead just as the Broken Bells came back on stage for their encore, so as soon as the concert let out, I raced for my car and then a truly amazing thing happened: I drove on Peachtree Road all the way from 17th Street in Midtown to Collier Road without having to stop once for a red light. That has never happened to me before; it seems that I usually spend more time on Peachtree waiting for lights to change than I do actually driving. But last night, I got nothing but green all the way from Midtown, through Pershing Point, across I-85, and I even got the green arrow to make my left-hand turn onto Collier without having to wait for on-coming traffic to pass. Truly miraculous - such a thing is likely never to occur again.

So as it turns out, I was able to make it home in time to watch the closing 60 or so seconds of the Celtics Game 4 victory, tying the series up 2-2.

Life is good. Who needs the World Cup when the Celtics are in the playoffs? Who needs Bonnaroo when The Morning Benders and Broken Bells are playing just down the street? (Actually, even as I'm writing this, I'm listening to a live feed on of The Flaming Lips performing The Dark Side of the Moon - in its entirety! - at the Bonnaroo Festival.)

And young Abby Sunderland is safe and sound.

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