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Broken Bells Ring True at The Vic

By Jessica Mlinaric in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 2, 2014 9:00PM

Broken Bells stopped by the Vic Theater in support of their sophomore LP, After the Disco, and delivered a solid performance despite the album’s mixed critical reception. The super duo of The Shins’ frontman James Mercer and producer Brian Burton, aka Dangermouse, led the astral indie pop journey from respective synth pods situated on either side of a reflective orb. They were joined by additional guitarist and drummer/bassist to round out the live band and silhouetted by visuals including undulating ocean wave spirographs and the starry plains of space.

After the Disco is an album for solitary hours when you’re feeling especially reflective (it’s Mercer after all), so I was glad to hear its melodic moodiness really come to life in a live setting. Standouts like “A Perfect World,” “After the Disco,” and “Leave It Alone” benefitted by a balance of material from the self-titled first album and even a dip into the Meyrin Fields EP.

Mercer and Burton appeared workmanlike at the outset, taking a few songs to convert their studio stance to the stage. It’s understandable given that this was only Broken Bells’ second date on their first tour outing in four years. Even after heating things up, the focused pair didn’t interact much with the crowd (or in Burton’s case at all). Their attention was directed toward delivery and there was little chance that the indie luminaries would do anything but delight. The sweeping range of Mercer’s distinctive vocals were on display, reaching Bee Gee levels of falsetto during “Holding On for Life.” Dangermouse coolly multitasked, swapping out duty on bass, synth and drums. Their sound spans influences from R&B to disco, managing to achieve a signature style that’s more polished than their last Chicago visit in 2010. Openers Au Revoir Simone returned to the stage in the second half of the show, providing vocal accompaniment that upped the layered atmosphere.

What Broken Bells didn’t do was surprise me. Their encore came closest, with only Mercer and Burton playing stripped down, acoustic renditions of “Citizen” and “October.” Talented musicians performed an enjoyable show and the crowd lavished their approval throughout the evening. “This was fun,” Mercer concluded, proving that you don’t have to go for broke to have a good time.