When it comes to popular music, Danger Mouse (also known as Brian Burton) has been the Zelig at the dawn of the 21st century, an everywhere man with an uncanny knack for being at ground zero of the decade's important pop moments.
The Grey Album, where the Beatles' White Album peanut butter got mixed up with Jay-Z's Black Album chocolate? Check. The Gorillaz's sophomore slump-defying second album, Demon Days? Check. Gnarls Barkley's breakout global hit "Crazy"? Check.
Danger Mouse's latest zeitgeist moment is Broken Bells, a collection of shimmering analog-era pop produced in collaboration with the Shins' James Mercer. Sunday night, the Broken Bells played the Electric Factory, and while the show may have been short on surprises - they played their recently released self-titled debut from beginning to end, along with a few choice covers - it was long on the endorphin-triggering pleasures that finely wrought indie pop can deliver.
As a live unit, the Broken Bells feature Mercer on gossamer vocal and guitar duties, Danger Mouse on drums (and occasionally keyboards), and five young sidemen rounding out bass, keyboard, second guitar, and backing vocal duties. Performing before a wall-sized screen onto which artsy ephemera were projected, the Bells jolted their pleasing-but-too-sleepy-by-half debut to life with the heft and bite you get only in a live setting.
Standout moments included "The High Road," which sounds like some great lost '60s AM radio nugget; "Your Head Is on Fire," which sounds like the band playing Space Invaders at the bottom of Brian Wilson's swimming pool; and "Vaporize," which sounds like the deathless, sun-kissed pop of Mercer's day job, the beloved indie-rockers the Shins.
Two notable non-album selections rounded out the evening, a gorgeous, gilded reading of Tommy James and the Shondells' "Crimson and Clover," and a reworked arrangement of "Insane Lullaby," from Dark Night of the Soul, Mercer and Danger Mouse's collaboration with Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous, who took his life this year. At the Electric Factory, they peeled off the white-noise swirl of the recording that intentionally disfigures the song's innate prettiness, recasting an abrasive art song into a heart-tugging elegy for a fallen comrade.
Opening the show was San Francisco's the Morning Benders, who seem well on their way to outgrowing their current status as the Shins Jr.