Live review: Broken Bells

Bootlegs, News - Published: 31 March 2014

The Shins’ James Mercer and multi-award winning producer Danger Mouse re-unite for a second album and a bigger tour…

Broken Bells live in ParisA fair bit can be said in the way of criticism when it comes to ‘supergroups’. Rightly or wrongly, they tend to be seen as short-lived attempts to bring together talents whose egos inevitably get in the way of either quality music or good live performances. Or sometimes both.

Luckily, the collaboration between singer-songwriter James Mercer (The Shins) and musician-producer Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) doesn’t fall in that category. Broken Bells started out back in 2009 and the project so far has proved both enduring and successful with two albums out – the latest of which, titled ‘After The Disco’, was released on February 4th.

Excitement is palpable inside La Cigale as the band arrives on the stage of the sold-out venue and begins the set with ‘Perfect World’, the opening track on ‘After the disco’. From the get-go, we’re invited onto an intergalactic journey of synth-filled psych-pop, guided along by the mesmerising outer-space videos running in the background of the quirky 70s sci-fi set.

Broken bells live in ParisCatchy hit single ‘The ghost inside’ from debut album is next, followed by ‘After the disco’ – at which stage you can feel the floor of  the pit bouncing from the crowd dancing. As the set goes on fluctuating pleasantly between songs from both albums, the crowd’s steady responsiveness to each new song is a clear testament to the band’s popularity. Everyone is enjoying the moment – singing along, dancing, clapping, and someone in the audience even decides to Skype their dad and show him ‘The angel and the fool’ from beginning to end.

What is most striking about Broken Bells is the band’s flawless sound and professionalism live. These are true musicians that master their craft perfectly – Mercer’s voice, impeccable throughout, is further enhanced by the talent of his multi-instrumentalist bandmates, so seamless in the way they swap between instruments that you wouldn’t have a clue they’re all switching between bass, keyboards, guitar and drums, would you happen to have closed your eyes.

After playing acoustic ballad ‘Leave it alone’, the band concludes the first part of its set with ‘The high road’, a distinct crowd’s favourite, before coming back for an all-debut-album encore (‘Citizen’, ‘Trap doors’, ‘October’), earning thunderous applause from the audience. “Thank you very much. You guys have been very good to us, you are nice, good people,” says Mercer when the band comes back on stage.

Broken Bells have been playing for almost one and a half hour by the time they play the final notes of melancholic ‘October’ and exit the stage. As good as the 18-track set has been, there is something frustrating – perhaps even slightly anti-climactic – in the way the gig just stops. For a few seconds everyone is half-expecting the band to come back once more, if only to play the much-missed ‘No matter what you’re told’. But the lights come back on and just like in the lyrics of ‘After the Disco’, it’s time to follow the crowd into the night.