Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

Several months ago I attended a Long Winters concert at the Bowery Ballroom with the solitary yet grand intention of getting blindingly drunk and singing along to “Cinnamon.” It had been a long week. I strategized such that my pre-show drinking would take place at Arlene’s Grocery, a bar that happens to have a music space, rather than a music space with a bar that shells out expensive, poorly poured drinks. I.e. the Ballroom I would be frequenting later that evening. Deciding to go to Arlene’s means two things:

  1. I will probably be drunk by the time I get to the show (PBR + JD = 3 dollars)
  2. I will walk past the Bowery Ballroom, and see what time the Long Winters’ set begins

The sign gave me unexpected good news. “Menomena is opening,” it said. “You should get here early, like, 9, instead of 10:30 when the Long Winters go on.”

I thanked the sign and moved on.

I’ve been following Menomena for a while now. I Am The Fun Blame Monster, in all its flip-book packaging glory arrived one day in the mail and became the rare unrequested disc that gets played furiously and without end. At the time of the Long Winters show I had yet to hear Under An Hour, the 59-minute score to a Portland modern dance performance.

Having achieved my goal of blinding drunkenness, Menomena’s short opening set was like a firework show in a bedroom. Absolutely incredible, beautiful, and seemingly very, very dangerous.

Several months later, vowing not to drink so as to experience it more fully (and having just returned from a week in Tampa and Phoenix for some day-job commercial shoots, at which blinding drunkenness was a norm) I returned to the Bowery Ballroom to see a sold-out, headlining set by the now incredibly more popular Menomena.

Menomena at the BoweryFriend and Foe, the Barsuk full-length that, to borrow a line from Humphrey Bogart, is the “stuff dreams are made of,” came out a couple months ago to the hand-claps of critical acclaim it so rightly deserves. Listening to it in the days leading up to the show, I’m amazed that three guys can pull off such a huge sound. Would the band have a choir with them for “Rotten Hell”? How would they play the acoustic guitar on “Wet and Rustling”? Would they sample so much sound it would be like watching a stereo on stage?

Answers to the above questions:

  1. The audience would be trained, over the course of about 15-20 minutes of talk between band members regarding it being Justin’s 30th birthday and no one can find opener Field Music, who promised to help out on the big finale as well. Opener Land of Talk was ready, but where was Field Music? No one knew, we all waited, and the encore big-finish finale was just kind of awkward and funny. (see the band rehearsing their Portland choir for the same part here)
  2. They wouldn’t. They would just play it electric.
  3. No. Justin played an organ with his feet, sang, and played saxophone and guitar with his hands. Danny played the drums like Jude Law playing his wife, and Brent played keys, guitar (the electric one that took place of “Wet and Rusting”’s acoustic), glockenspial, and a Powerbook with tape strategically placed such that the glowing Apple icon on back of the screen became a heart (see photo).

Overall, the night was pretty fucking amazing. With Menomena, the Northwest has on their hands a band of incredible potential and skill. Most artists out there now know how to play their instruments, and can do it well, but I think few could carry the weight of being described as “composers,” which Menomena rightly deserve.

That being said, during a pause in the show to bring Justin a birthday cake, Danny described their music as such:

“We’ll recommence our pretentious art rock shortly after a short break.” Then we sang Justin “Happy Birthday.”