Tag Archives: James Mercer

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The Shins – Celebrate Brooklyn – June 15, 2017

June 16th, 2017


Photos courtesy of Charles Steinberg | charlesosteinberg.com

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Broken Bells Make Memories at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park

September 29th, 2014

Broken Bells – Rumsey Playfield – September 26, 2014

Broken Bells – Rumsey Playfield – September 26, 2014
What began as a notable collaboration has morphed into a true band, as Broken Bells showed a packed Rumsey Playfield on Friday night. With two LPs, the band—comprised mainly of Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse, one half of Gnarls Barkley) and James Mercer (the Shins—already has grown a fan base that didn’t spend the night shouting requests for songs that didn’t belong to Broken Bells. Musically, the biggest sign they’ve done something really right might just be that Mercer’s voice, unmistakably the most identifiable part of the Shins’ sound, easily blends into the cool and moody rock that they’re now known for. Rather than this being some side project, Broken Bells have had remarkable shows of their own without needing to be qualified as “that guy’s other band.”

For more than an hour, Broken Bells bounced between material from this year’s After the Disco and their 2010 self-titled debut in front of a circular screen filled with images like starry expanses and tunnels of colored light. And whether he was on the slick white keyboards or banging away at the drums, Burton, his head hung low, was a wonder to watch, fully concentrated but loose enough to groove. Dance-y tracks like “Holding On for Life” contrasted well with the likes of “Perfect World” and its spacier jams. And often Broken Bells met somewhere in the middle, with songs like “The Ghost Inside.” Right before the show ended and everyone in Central Park split off in different directions to finish their Fridays elsewhere, the band let loose a dozen giant glowing orbs, giving the crowd one more Broken Bells memory. —Sean O’Kane

Photos courtesy of Charles Steinberg | charlesolivierphoto.com

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Broken Bells Play Rumsey Playfield in Central Park on Friday Night

September 24th, 2014

Brian Burton—aka Danger Mouse—was already renowned for his considerable production work and being one half of Gnarls Barkley, and James Mercer was best known for fronting the Shins when the two combined forces to form Broken Bells in 2010. In calling their self-titled debut album (stream it below) “a sweet ’n’ sour and head-spinningly trippy set,” BBC Music declared, “Rarely have such brooding sentiments sounded so alluring.” And while some thought this would only be a one-off, Burton and Mercer remained true to their word about forming a band rather than making an album together just once. In fact they returned this past winter with their sophomore effort, After the Disco (stream it below). Spin mentioned “the idea of Broken Bells as a partnership built on the past’s vision of the future” and also called it “the rare, superior sequel—think Toy Story 2.” And although Broken Bells (above, doing “Perfect World” on Live on Letterman) record as a duo, they perform live as a full band. Go see them outside on Friday night at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park. Walkmen frontman Hamilton Leithauser opens the show.

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Broken Bells Make It Look Easy at Webster Hall

March 10th, 2014

Broken Bells – Webster Hall – March 8, 2014

Broken Bells - Webster Hall - March 8, 2014
The name Broken Bells is an odd choice for a collaboration between two musicians each extremely talented in his own right. It all began back in 2004 when James Mercer (of the Shins) and Brian Burton (better known as Danger Mouse) met at Denmark’s Roskilde Festival and had a moment of “Hey, we love each other’s music, so let’s make some together.” The partnership more than just panned out. In 2009, the duo put out their first single, “The High Road,” a song you couldn’t escape that year. Now a fully realized and impressively talented live band, Broken Bells came to a very sold-out Webster Hall on Friday night, fresh on the heels of their latest release, After the Disco.

So why do I find the band name so odd? With most collaborations or supergroup situations, you can pick apart the music and figure out who wrote what. But that’s next to impossible to do with Broken Bells, and their live show gives no further clues. There’s nothing broken about this collaboration. Taking a note from the Beatles’ playbook, all their songwriting credits go simply to “Burton/Mercer.” Even the instruments they played offered no hints as to who pitched which songs to whom, saying, “What do you think of this one?” Sometimes Mercer had just a microphone, and sometimes he was behind a guitar and singing. Burton began the set behind keyboards, before performing a few songs on the bass and then on the drums. The two have pop music in their blood, and despite only two full-length releases and an EP to the partnership’s name, they can still fill out an impressive set of irresistibly catchy songs with no apparent lulls.

Opening band Au Revoir Simone joined Broken Bells for their last few songs, providing background vocals on “Medicine” and “Leave It Alone.” And although they were also onstage singing along to “The High Road,” they were overpowered by everyone in the audience. Mercer’s vocal range was even more impressive than it generally is on Shins’ songs. But it was still perhaps a gutsy move to leave “October” for the encore. I imagine that with it jumping in and out of falsetto, the number is difficult on the vocal chords to perform after singing so many other challenging songs for more than an hour, but Mercer made it look easy. In fact, both musicians make their craft look easy: They’re naturals, but it’s still impressive how the two can seamlessly bring together their talents and have plenty of songs to show for it. —Dan Rickershauser

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com

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Grow a Pair: Win Free Tickets to See Broken Bells on 3/7

March 4th, 2014

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Broken Bells released their second full-length, After the Disco, about a month ago, and their current tour brings them to Webster Hall on Friday. The show sold out very quickly, but the good news is that The House List is giving away two tickets. Don’t have any of your own but still want to go? No worries. Try to Grow a Pair. It’s easy, just fill out the form below, making sure to include your full name, e-mail address, which show you’re trying to win tickets to (Broken Bells, 3/7) and a brief message explaining the best thing about switching the clocks ahead this weekend. Eddie Bruiser, who thinks we should enact daylight saving time 365 days a year, will notify the winner by Friday. Good luck.

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The Shins Return

May 1st, 2012

The Shins – Terminal 5 – April 30, 2012


A funny thing happened when the Shins released their latest album, Port of Morrow. Five years had passed since the group’s previous one, Wincing the Night Away, just enough time that their legion of fans was almost ready to think about the Shins in past tense. But a new disc was all that was needed to remind them of the band’s brilliance, and their live show echoes this experience.

Playing their second of three sold-out shows at Terminal 5 last night, it was as though once every song was recognized, it was greeted with “Oh, yeah, I love this song!” roars of approval from the crowd. Given that James Mercer had entirely overhauled the band since his last album, many of the older songs have evolved from their recorded versions. Older ones seem to have incorporated the punchiness heard on new songs like “The Rifle’s Spiral” and “Bait and Switch.” “So Says I” sounded faster than its studio take, being driven by a much more forceful tempo.

Special guests Amber Coffman and Haley Dekle of Dirty Projectors joined the band for a few songs, providing garnishing harmonies on “Australia” and a handful of other songs. Shins guitarist Jessica Dobson added some beautiful high harmonies to “New Slang” that fit flawlessly into the already near perfect song. Mercer returned for the encore to play a solo acoustic version of “Young Pilgrims.” The audience was so hushed listening to him that when some guy yelled, “Why are you so good?” the entire venue heard it and erupted in laughter. It was a valid question. —Dan Rickershauser

Photos courtesy of Joe Papeo | www.irocktheshot.com

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Even Hail Can’t Derail Broken Bells

October 12th, 2010

Broken Bells – Terminal 5 – October 11, 2010

Broken Bells - Terminal 5 - October 11, 2010

Hail is kind of a strange meteorological phenomenon, seemingly defying logic: It’s 65 degrees outside and big balls of ice are putting dents in the sidewalk? But hail it did on Monday night, as a sold-out crowd made its way toward Terminal 5. The band they came to see, Broken Bells, also defies logic—a mash-up of the Shins’ James Mercer and Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse—they seem to be an entity entirely of the studio and yet, there they were, an ensemble seven strong, performing live onstage.

A white-sheet backdrop projected images on a graph-paper background, giving the show a feel of being born from a laboratory notebook, the detailed results of some well-reasoned experiment. The classical music playing over the PA was overtaken as the band took the stage and seamlessly launched into their dreamy, psychedelic pop. At first, almost exclusively drawing from their 2010 self-titled release, Danger Mouse and Mercer eased their way into the set. Things turned toward the more engaging with the third tune, “The High Road,” with a setting sun projected behind them and the stage basked in matching orange lights.

Seven musicians seemed like too many, not nearly enough and just the right number all at once. Multiple guitars and keyboards fleshed out just the right notes to wrap up Mercer’s vocals. Burton quietly made his presence felt moving from drum kit to electric piano and even a song or two on guitar. For such a delicate balance of sounds, the band seemed to impressively operate without a clear leader. As the show progressed, a couple of new songs were played with a somewhat darker, edgier sound, hinting at more to come from Broken Bells. Following a tidy set, the band returned for a multisong encore, highlighted by a cover of the Black Keys’ “Everlasting Light,” that settled into a nice jam to send Mercer and Danger out, as the band kept on going, playing long enough to ensure that it was pouring once again when everyone left the venue. —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of Greg Aiello | www.ga-photos.com