Photos: Menomena, Guards play at the Bluebird Theater - Reverb

Menomena, Guards at the Bluebird Theater, 03/01/13 (photos, review)

A promising Friday night show at the Bluebird Theater with indie mainstay Menomena and NYC’s Guards delivered a few surprises and a fair share of disappointments. Despite Guards’ shorter career, and having only toured in support of its full-length debut (“In Guards We Trust”) for barely a month, the garage pop band’s opening set was the more enjoyable of the two.

Guards opened with “Don’t Wake The Dead,” from their 2010 EP — all pleasant-sounding, anthem-y indie pop rock, as expected. What made their set a wonderful surprise was the seamless segue into an excellent guitar-driven, well-timed, instrumental coda that sent the song off into the ether. 

Their instrumental ambitions didn’t always payoff, but they improved most every song they played. Guards’ live chops and on-stage enthusiasm ought to help them stand out from the hundreds of MGMT’s and/or whomevers in their genre.

Menomena, on the other hand, a duo (live, a five piece) of multi-instrumentalists, Justin Harris and Danny Seim, perform far weightier material than Guards. Not surprisingly, a song or two into the Portland, Ore., band’s experimental rock, it was clear the fun part of the evening had passed in favor of something more ambitious. Throughout their set, Menomena took musical chances — some worked (the crowd definitely loved whenever Harris played his baritone sax), others didn’t. For some of the audience, it may have been a little too musically adventurous (Harris and Seim use a computer program called the Digital Looping Recorder to help write songs).

Menomena’s set occasionally included odd time signatures and odder, almost inorganic instrumental forays that, unlike similar attempts by Guards, rarely pulled you in, and seldom for very long. 

It worked best when they grooved, although for an instrumental band, that was too infrequent. Audience members who took the time to actively listen were rewarded with some absolutely magic moments (“Taos”), but there was little, if any, set momentum. 

Prior to the show and based on both bands’ recorded output, one might have been tempted to skip Guards’ set. After witnessing Friday night’s show, that clearly would have been a mistake.

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Mike Long is a Longmont-based writer and comedian and a regular contributor to Reverb.

Candace Horgan is a Denver freelance writer/photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. When not writing and shooting, she plays guitar and violin in Denver band Black Postcards.