Tour kick-offs usually go one way or the other: The excitement spurs the band to another level, or nerves and unpreparedness prevent them from ever getting off the ground. Friday’s sold-out concert by Broken Bells – the first show on the group’s second go-round -- was surprisingly even-keel and carefully executed. Frontman James Mercer, who has a spotty stage reputation with his main vehicle the Shins, was a cool-bean all night, and his partner Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton casually switched between bass, keyboards and drums like a master chef cooking at home. Their two tour bandmates and the overall sound were also nearly spotless.
As was the case with the first Broken Bells album/tour in 2010, Mercer and Burton brought along an impressive, kaleidoscopic visual display to make up for their relatively stolid stage presence. The imagery was even more impressive this time, with a half-moon video backdrop showing cosmic footage, a few movie-set-style white light towers and other do-dads. Probably the niftiest trick came six songs into the 90-minute show when Mercer and Burton stood side-by-side with lights underfoot casting giant shadows onto the video screen in the slow-strutting, eerily funky “The Angel and the Fool.”
Also a shared trait from the first time around, the new Broken Bells record, “After the Ghost,” is only half-full. They were able to combine the two best moments off each so-so LP (plus one EP) into a much stronger set than in 2010. The throbbing “Meyrin Fields” and falsetto-fueled “The Changing Lights” were among the highlights, along with the Bee Gees-ish new single “Holding on for Life” and pre-encore closer “The High Road.” Mercer and Burton still resorted to a handful of dullards, though. Most glaringly, all three songs they saved for the encore resulted in a discernable lull at show’s end, especially “Citizen” (played as acoustic duo). Still, when Mercer said, “This was a great way to start off the tour” before the finale, it certainly didn’t ring hollow like the rest of the encore.
Here’s the set list:
Perfect World / The Ghost Inside / After the Disco / The Waiting Game / The Mall & Misery / The Angel & the Fool / Holding on for Life / Vaporize, / Control / Meyrin Fields / Sailing to Nowhere / Medicine (first of three songs with the three women of opening band Au Revoire Simone on backup vocals) / The Changing Lights / Leave It Alone / The High Road ENCORE: Citizen / October / Trap Doors