Thekla, Bristol on Sun 2nd Mar 2008

I've been an admirer of Menomena since accidentally discovering their wonderfully weird, inventive and enchanting second album 'Friend And Foe' last Autumn and was naturally thrilled when they announced they were to pay a rare visit to these shores and, more specifically, fit in an appearance at Bristol's Thekla.

The Portland, Oregon, band fit in more ideas, more changes of direction and stride through more musical genres in one song than many present-day line-ups will use in their entire careers, so I was suitably surprised when they stepped out in front of a modest Thekla audience and revealed themselves to be a three-piece.

Fluidly switching between instruments, Brent Knopf, Justin Harris and Danny Seim create a spell-binding mix of guitars, bass, drums, glockenspiel, piano, saxophone and a dense, bewildering mix of midi samples. How three people could do justice to an album so cleverly crafted with disparate interwoven ideas and themes is beyond me, but Menomena do, and then some.

For those who haven't heard them, their closest contemporaries are probably bands like Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Arcade Fire and post-Ok Computer Radiohead, although they defy easy pigeon-holing and the minute you think you have a song neatly judged, boxed and dealt with they slam on the handbrake, peform a jolting U-turn and send the song merrily jaunting off in an entirely different direction. That's their thing, their charm.

They open this evening with the appropriately-titled 'Weird', driven along by waves of menacing-sounding sax, before moving quickly into Friend and Foe's opening track, 'Muscle 'N Flow'.

They also throw in a couple of songs from debut album 'I Am The Fun Blame Monster' (an anagram of The First Menomena Album), but for the most part they stick to the ambitious task of recreating Friend and Foe. A haunting run-through of 'West' follows - a track owing a small debt to David Bowie. 'The Pelican' is all angular guitars and samples before the band switch effortlessly through the gears and send it soaring to a massive climax, then slip into two of the outstanding tracks from the album - the beautiful, haunting, synth-infused 'My My', and the closest thing they have to a single - the marvellous 'Wet And Rusting', powered by accomplished snare-heavy drumming from Seim.

The heart-warming and uplifting 'Rotten Hell', built around the refrain of "Wading through this mess together/hand in hand shoulder to shoulder/some may stumble, some may fall behind", lends a genuinely touching moment before the brilliantly daft 'Evil Bee' brings their all-too-brief set to a close.

Painfully inventive for such young musicians, possessing modesty, humour, incredible ambition, and the necessary dose of mild insanity, expect to see Menomena impressing at this summer's festivals and don't bet against them popping up on a future Mercury Music Prize shortlist either.

article by: Gary Walker

published: 05/03/2008 14:41


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