Show Review

Brian Ahnmark
It would be a disservice to say that the Morning Benders are “from California” – or, more accurately, “from San Francisco.” In truth, this quartet is the musical embodiment of its hometown: a creeping fog lacerated by rays of light, overcast and lush, weird yet accessible.

Associating the phrase “from California” with a melodic pop band typically results in lazy comparisons to the Beach Boys. So it's nice to hear the Morning Benders turn that stereotype on its ear, delivering disorienting sonicscapes that take the time to meander before they arrive.

The Morning Benders played the foil to the Black Keys' basement fuzz on August 13 at the Lifestyle Communities Pavilion in Columbus, providing a fitting soundtrack for the sweltering evening. The band performed eight of 10 songs from their 2010 sophomore full-length Big Echo. The textured arrangements of the record translated well to the stage and suitably saturated the heavy Ohio air.

The band opened – bravely – with “Stitches,” a brooding slow-burner that catches fire. Frontman Christopher Chu and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Chu built a murmuring noise foundation on guitar, while drummer Julian Harmon thundered an ominous tom rhythm. The sun burst through the fog as Chu sang, “You don't know me by name,” backed by a full-band four-part harmony before the layers unraveled into a raucous guitar meltdown.

“Promises” settled into a fat groove provided by Harmon and bassist Timothy Or, while Chu's chunky guitar funk inspired more than a few hips to sway. From there the band effortlessly blended the beach with baroque, familiar “whoa-oh” vocal melodies emerging from the murky ambiance.

The darkness ultimately gave way for a superb closing trio. Reggae-tinged “Cold War (Nice Clean Fight)” and “All Day Day Light” were chiming blasts of refreshment. The introduction of set-closer “Excuses” drew cheers, and rightfully so; the mellotron-infused waltz is a highlight on the record as well as the stage.

“It sounds like some of you know it, so you can sing along,” Chu suggested as he traded his guitar for a maraca. The audience was more than happy to oblige, especially during the mid-song breakdown as the instrumentation dropped out and Chu began looping simple vocal refrains of “da-dum” and “la-da-da.” Spontaneous hand claps kept time until the band rejoined for a feedback finale, the noise gradually dissipating even as Chu's layered loop vocal continued to cycle. The once-sweet melody suddenly turned sinister, akin to a broken Chatty Cathy going down in a fiery plane crash.

Setlist
Stitches
Promises
Wet Cement
Hand Me Downs
Mason Jar
Cold War (Nice Clean Fight)
All Day Day Light
Excuses