Those who know me know that I am a huge Menomena fan. A quick check of my Last.fm profile affirms my suspicion that, yes, Menomena is my top played artist, and with good reason – the threesome out of Portland, Oregon have been wowing critics and fans alike with their latest release, Friend and Foe, out on Barsuk Records and are now on tour supporting the album.
Although I looked forward to seeing them live for months, as June 20th came nearer, I began to worry about whether or not they would live up to my expectations live. In the studio, they create rich musical landscapes with the aid of a digital looping recorder (DLR), nicknamed the “deeler.” Drummer Danny Siem describes the recording process:
“First, we set the tempo of the click, which is played through a pair of headphones. We then take turns passing a single mic around the room. One of us will hold the mic in front of an instrument, while another one of us will lay down a short improvised riff over the click track. We usually start with the drums. Once the drums begin looping, we throw on some bass, piano, guitar, bells, sax, or whatever other sort of noisemaker happens to be in the room. Deeler keeps the process democratic, which is the only way we can operate”.
Knowing this, I wondered how it could be possible to recreate the studio sound in a live setting. While the band did struggle early on in the tour with the logistics of doing so, by the time they reached the stage at Walter’s on Washington here in Houston, they had the wrinkles ironed out, and played one of the most amazing live sets I have ever seen.
What is most remarkable about Menomena (and let’s get it out of the way here, it’s pronounced meh-NAW-meh-nuh), is the musical ability that all three share – juggling between two and five instruments apiece.
Laura and I arrived early to Walter’s, so as to be close to Menomena when they took the stage, and watched as a keyboard, xylophone, laptop, drum kit, pedal board, two saxophones, and various basses and guitars were brought onstage before Menomena launched into an incredible set, combining tracks from both Friend and Foe and 2004’s I Am The Fun Blame Monster.
Danny’s set list:
(Ghostship, Twenty Cell Revolt, Weird, Strongest Man in the World, The Pelican, My My, Wet and Rusting, Muscle n’ Flo, Boyscout’n, The Late Great Libido, Rotten Hell, Cough Coughing, Evil Bee)
Brent Knopf, set up on stage right, played primarily keyboard but also manned the Deeler, guitar, and xylophone – often utilizing them all at once. Justin Harris, center, is the primary vocalist (though all members of the band share singing and songwriting duties equally), and played bass and guitar as well as both alto and tenor saxophone. Harris also rocked what I can only assume to be some kind of moog synthesizer. Finally, drummer Danny Siem absolutely wailed on the drums at stage left, but sang and played the xylophone intermittently as well. I honestly thought at some points that his drumsticks were going to snap in half, he beat those drums so hard – while barefoot, I might add. I think I’m in love…
Their talent is unlike anything I have ever seen, and had I not witnessed it live I’m sure I never could have imagined anything like it.
The crowd of about 100 showed a lot of love for the band, who were somewhat shocked by the turnout.
“We came here about a year and a half ago, and it was an empty house. There were about 7 people here,” said Harris between songs. “But then again, it was election day.. I guess all you guys were out voting, right? Well, anyway, glad to see you guys out here tonight.”
After the show, the crowd cleared out rather quickly, but the guys were more than happy to chat with their fans and sign CDs and posters. It has been my general experience that people from Oregon are some of the nicest in the country (I spent part of one summer biking, rafting, surfing, snowboarding, and just straight bumming around all parts of Oregon), and Knopf, Harris, and Siem do not disappoint.
View my photos on Flickr.
Buy Menomena’s album Friend and Foe here.