Austin City Limits Festival
Danger Mouse and The Shins Join Forces
“Let’s get ready to rooooock!!!!!?” Really? When you hear such statements from the mouths of hammered frat guys, you assume you’re at a Jason Mraz concert, or even participating in a challenging game of beer pong. In this case, this was a performance by Broken Bells who played at Austin City Limits Festival.
Yes, you read right. Broken Bells. The collaboration between Gnarls Barkley’s mega producer Danger Mouse and front man’s James Mercer from The Shins. Their self-titled debut was released this March, and features ambient but beat-driven electronic songs laced with melancholic, catchy melodies and yearning vocals… not exactly frat boy fodder.
The massive crowd contained a screaming, shirtless man with fake rhinestone-studded sunglasses surrounded by a thick cloud of pot smoke. The stoner crowd caused me to re-check the festival’s schedule about four times until I realized that the majority of people I was surrounded by had no f@*kin’ idea who was about to play. This was somewhat disheartening until Broken Bells finally hit the stage.
It soon became clear why the crowd didn’t seem interested in the band. As it turned out, they had good reason.
As Broken Bells began to play “October”, Mercer’s vocals were noticeably strained and off tempo. Things only got worse as they progressed into the slightly more upbeat single “The Ghost Inside Me,” which relies primarily on Mercer pulling off falsetto. As it was, the falsetto parts were meek and somewhat quiet. As soon as he was able to move back to his chest voice, the vocals became loud and bellowing.
On the bright side, Mercer’s singing did improve vastly as the set went on. Around this point, a joint was shoved into my face with a voice asking, “Care to get some help with your writing?” Riiight. Then, something interesting seemed to be happening—Danger Mouse switched to the drums!
Sad to say, Danger Mouse appeared to be the only drummer on the planet who failed to express even the tiniest amount of excitement — or any emotion for that matter — while banging on the drums. Throughout the set he also moved to keys and then bass, showing equal apathy toward all the instruments.
At least the backing band was having fun, which did not go unnoticed. When a brass section entered triumphantly to play “Vaporize”, the shirtless guy shrieked like a kid on Christmas: “Yeeeeeeaaaaahhhhhh!!!!!! Hooornsssss!!!!!!!!”
So while all the drunken wooting was unsolicited and certainly annoying, and even though the band served up lackluster “f*** you,” at least someone seemed happy to be there.
– Molly Wardlaw
Photo Credit: Chuck Kerr