Broken Bells - Photo by James Minchin

Photo by James Minchin

Brian ‘DANGER MOUSE‘ Burton and THE SHINS front man James Mercer decided to work together in 2009, that was the start of their side project BROKEN BELLS. Five years and two albums later the duo, backed by
a full band, has turned this group into something much greater than an experimental break from their well-established careers.

On their tour across the states and Europe, BROKEN BELLS stopped in Berlin to play at Huxley’s Neue Welt, a pretty ordinary theater that they lit up with James’ signature vocals and the group’s mesmerizing graphics. Although the strictly German crowd failed to show much excitement throughout the set, this cannot be held as a testament to their performance.

The band played nearly all of their tracks from their first album Broken Bells and of their more recent longplayer After the Disco. In tracks from the latter album, Mercer breaks from his style in THE SHINS, accompanied by more electronic portions. The tracks remain in their alternative style while showing a greater musical range for the pair as they include synthesizers and rely less solely on James’ vocals.

Unfortunately they were only able to really get the audience into it for Perfect World, The High Road and Leave It Alone. Though the band expressed their disappointment in a quick chat with NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION at this after the show, they recognized that mellow audiences seem to be typical of this city and do not necessarily have to do with their set. Mercer did, however, reveal that he was off tone on a few tracks, though this was not noticeable to those outside the band.

The hypnotic, kaleidoscopic graphics that played throughout the performance nearly equaled their musical talent. Scenes of space alternating with doubled images of women played behind the musicians for a significant portion of their set. At other times, there were abstract designs or seas that looked like they were to consume the stage. Further, oversized shadows of the musicians often climbed the walls of the theater. According to band member Dan Elkan, they were all made to wear black in order for the images to have the desired effect.

BROKEN BELLS will continue their tour throughout Europe before they return to the U.S. for the festival season. They will be headlining at Lollapalooza, Coachella and Bonnaroo before heading to Canada’s Squamish Festival. As long as the talented duo continues to push their limits and view this as more than a spin off of their previous bands, BROKEN BELLS have the potential to attract an even greater following.

Written by Sasha Chebil