Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto, ON, October 17

> > Oct 18 2012

Menomena - Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto, ON, October 17
Photo: Lucia Graca
By Scott TavenerPortland's Menomena will likely never write anything as catchy as the Muppets' version of "Mah N Mah N," though that's not really the point. Instead, the combo — led by Justin Harris and Danny Seim — focus on multi-layered concoctions that toy with tone and pace while trying on a range of different guises. Live, it's ultimately more rousing than anything that the Snowths could deliver.

Leadoff "Muscle'N Flo" infused an aubade with a dash of slowed-down funk, tempering it with incisive guitars and keys before it evolved into a playful stomp, la Dirty Projectors. Similarly, a key-driven "Plumage" used more low-end than a Chris Nolan trailer, but with admittedly more levity.

Since the departure of key member Brent Knopf before the band's latest record, Moms, Menomena have been a two-man creative partnership. Nevertheless, the touring five-piece effused a socialist leaning, with players sharing various duties, especially on the vocal front.

Thus, the cathartic "Giftshoppe" — all soaring melodies and spaced-out guitars — benefitted from a cohesive, stirring, multi-vocal attack. Ditto "Five Little Rooms": marking one of the evening's major highlights, it was a tonal triumph, full of overt promises yet decorated with disturbingly incessant keys and a scorching six-string.

On the other hand, "Strongest Man in the World" and its melodramatic synths provided the most suspenseful cut of the gig, while "Queen Black Acid" opted instead for a hopefulness the belied its lyrics.

That sonic diversity kept the show largely engrossing, save a handful of minor gaffes. "Capsule" tried out a grating bit of Southern rock that its last-act extraterrestrial keys couldn't save. Also, a sprinting "Baton" traded nuance for easy fireworks.

Still, the missteps were minor and standouts like "Rotten Hell" and "TAOS" overcame occasional stumbles by blending sophisticated arrangements, a healthy dose of sax and plenty of stargazing. A Kermit cameo would have been nice, but that's just picking nits.
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