At the Mercy of the Tall Indie Heads: Menomena/Land of Talk at Johnny Brenda’s

Land of Talk
(Field Music was on the bill, but dropped off)
Johnny Brenda’s
Philadelphia, PA


Brent Knopf – Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards, Glockenspiel, Sampler
Justin Harris – Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Baritone sax, Alto sax
Danny Seim – Vocals, Percussion, Drums

Land of Talk
Elizabeth Powell – Lead Vocal, Guitar
Chris McCarron – Bass
Bucky Wheaton – Drums

It was about 7:45PM when my wife and I arrived on Girard Avenue, backing the car behind a Mercedes and figuring that, if ANYBODY’S car was going to get broken into, it wasn’t going to be mine. A group of double-dutching girls were doing their thing at the corner while we exited the car and started walking the two blocks to Johnny Brenda’s, the venue wherein Menomena and Land of Talk would be playing to a sold-out crowd of backpacks, blazers and horn-rims. The plan was to meet up early with our group for some dinner and drinking. The show wasn’t going to start until 9:30, so the beer, food and conversation continued until then under the oppressive weight of a very strange selection of jukebox output.

Johnny Brenda’s was a nice joint. Walking in, you’ll find a long bar and a decent amount of tables. There was a pool table at the center of the bar, but I can’t imagine it’s easy to play pool on a Friday night, surrounded by beer guzzling hipsters that are seeing three of everything. I can only imagine more than a few prime shots were ruined by the unintentional “’scuse me” bump and I’m sure the low light doesn’t help those situations either.

Upstairs was a small lobby where a very unthreatening ticket taker propped up on a stool stamped our hands with a black star that had little lines circling it, suggesting of course that, despite it being black, it’s luminous. Once our tickets were ripped and our hands were properly “glowing,” we made our way to the stage area that was beyond a corridor tight with human padding.

Leading out to the stage area, the upstairs bar took up a decent amount of space that was already mostly compromised by all the guys and dolls eagerly awaiting Dixie cups full of amber fizz. Full body contact was unavoidable in a lot of instances and I can only imagine that I unconsciously gained intimate knowledge of more than one of the females present. Probably some of the males too, but I was four beers into the night by the time we hit the floor, so I really wasn’t paying too much attention. I was too busy yelling at the top of my lungs about Alice Coltrane with one of my group. My wife at one point presented me with a bottle of water and a beer and asked which one I wanted. Responsible inclinations automatically had me reach for the water, but it turned out that the beer was for me. So, I gripped the transparent Dixie and continued yelling about music.

Land of Talk hit the stage probably around 10 or so. Singer/guitarist, Elizabeth Powell, was anti-fashionably clad in a low-cut V-neck sweater with a tshirt underneath, trucker cap belling her thick hair. Her vocal inflections succeed where Courtney Love’s always failed: managing to sound credibly engaging despite being less than coherent. Even her stage banter was tough to figure out and I couldn’t decide if that was because the mic was too loud or if she was just really into mumbling. Other than that, Land of Talk had a lot of groove; disco groove at points. Powell’s guitar work was interestingly stylish and raw. Drummer, Bucky Wheaton, was all about two stick contact on the hi-hat and bassist, Chris McCarron, was very pronounced. He didn’t get buried under the prominent guitar work at all and, in a lot ways, he made the songs more varied and interesting.

The critic in me was really concentrating on the rhythm section while the “going on five beers” me became more aware that he was surrounded by some very TALL FUCKING PEOPLE. I thought indie heads were weak and malnourished. Granted it’s a very gross generalization but, when I see an individual that screams “indie hipster,” all I can think is that wheat beer and backpacks must really prevent upward propulsion into normal stature and slow the development of muscle tissue. Turns out, that’s not true. I was literally walled off from the stage by 7-footers in tracksuits, women with haystack hair, and dancing chicas whose elbows met me at eye level. It was like I was in middle school again, left untouched by the puberty gods while the girls around me sprouted in many different ways and just grew. Here I am: 30 and still being reminded that I’m short. Unreal.

A half-hour of sound check and “so what did you think?” conversation had crawled by once Menomena took the stage.

From the word “go,” Danny Seim was a fucking madman. Beginning with my favorite track from their latest album, “The Penguin,” he hit his drums with so much conviction, it was tough to know if they had wronged him somewhere down the line. I don’t think he even needed to be miked. One of my group shouted at one point, “He beats those drums like they insulted his mother!” And he was right.

Being relatively new to Menomena and their latest album, Friend And Foe (review pending), I thought that they were a crew of at least six. Instrumentation being as varied and involved as it is on wax, to see three people assume multiple rolls through each song was part of their set’s fascination for me. Central to their set was Justin Harris, thickly bearded and plaid clad. Harris was the band’s juggler: switching instruments after just about every song and assuming the roll of frontman. Brent Knopf, situated behind a laptop, glockenspiel and keyboard, just kept a guitar strapped to himself the whole time, but still served a myriad of functions as each song passed wonderfully. Seim added a couple percussive effects and vocals here and there, but his main function was to beat the shit out of his drum set.

They really kicked ass and I have much more respect for them now as a musical powerhouse. It was nice to see them in such an intimate venue. After the show, Justin Harris came out to the bar where we were standing and graciously accepted our compliments. I also got to compliment Land of Talk’s Chris McCarron while I purchased his band’s CD. It was about 12:40AM when we left Johnny Brenda’s and made our way home through the endless traffic lights along Broad Street. As my wife slept, I enjoyed the buzzing in my ears, knowing the circumstances by which I’d earned it, were more than worthwhile.

Letters From A Tapehead


Anonymous said…
Hey man, I was at that show and you nailed it. wasn't too hot on the chick singer of the first band, her mumbling was annoying, but Menomena was worth the wait. Good review, great site. You must get a million CD's mailed to you.
Sean Caldwell said…

Thanks for the comments and I'm glad you enjoyed the review. Menomena were awesome that night and they definitely made a fan out of me.

As far as the million CDs, I only review the CDs I buy. I wish I got a million CDs mailed to me. I could save some money and still have something to talk about.

Thanks for reading,
Letters From A Tapehead

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