Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto, ON, October 17
Portland's Menomena will likely never write anything as catchy as the Muppets' version of "Mah Nà Mah Nà," 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.
Photo: Lucia Graca
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, à 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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