This years’ Meltdown is curated by Richard Thompson of Fairport Convention and this year has featured acts as diverse as Bettye LaVette and Elvis Costello. Tonight it’s Broken Bells, also the final show in the Meltdown calendar, and the venue looks pretty full. DJ Dangermouse (known to his mum as Brian Burton) has teamed up with James Mercer (leader of indie anti-heroes The Shins) for this collaboration which grew out of mutual respect for each others work and from meeting at Roskilde Festival in 2004.
In previous interviews, Dangermouse has stated that in a musical sense no-one has the career that he wants so he uses film directors like Woody Allen as a role model/example of what it is he does. He definitely has the mark of an auteur about all of his work and this collaboration with James Mercer is no exception, although Mercer has such an individual and distinctive voice that he has stamped his own personality on the songs as well.
The band consists of bass, three guitars, drums, keyboards and electric piano. Dangermouse plays drums for about eighty percent of the set but also plays electric piano or one of the guitars on the rest of the songs. There’s also a percussionist who doubles as the drummer when Dangermouse is playing something else.
Mercer’s voice is plaintive and melancholic, with a nice falsetto that compliments the songs (most of which seem to be about loss) so one to sit and nod your head along to rather than get up and dance. They’re a good band and play with a restrained power, never rocking out but getting just loud enough to give an impact. The songs lack the pop hooks that pepper Dangermouse’s work with Gnarls Barkley and also lack the louder elements of some of The Shins work so they do work as an entity in their own right and can’t really be compared to what the two artists do in their respective bands, something you feel they were obviously going for.
Being notoriously shy, Dangermouse doesn’t say anything to the audience, preferring to silently move from drums to keyboard to guitar depending on the song. He leaves it to Mercer to chat between some of the numbers, who tells us that he used to skateboard at the nearby Southbank when he was younger.
They play the whole album and encore with the Smokey Robinson classic “You’ve really got a hold on me”, a song covered by The Temptations and The Beatles amongst others and one that suits Mercer’s voice really well. Good but not great, it will be interesting to see what Broken Bells do after this album.