When I first heard that Menomena and Field Music were touring together I thought it was an odd pairing. One was heady, anything-goes funk; the other very precise, very British, weirdly proggy pop. But before heading out to the Bowery Ballroom made an iPod playlist of both bands' new albums and put it on shuffle -- and there were times, before the vocals would kick in, that I wasn't sure which band was which. All of a sudden it clicked how perfect a pairing this was, two sides of the same coin. Both bands are experts at their instruments, prone to sudden shifts and time changes, but they just approach it differently.
I went to the show to see Field Music, whose debut made my Best of 2005 list, and their stateside live debut last January was one of my favorite shows of 2006. But Thursday's performance was miles beyond that. Using their own equipment this time, the band showed off exactly what they do best in a short, sharp set that was pretty close to perfect.
By "perfect" I am speaking to the precise nature of their set, rehearsed down to the second, with very little stage banter. Brothers Peter and David Brewis switched between drums and guitar multiple times throughout, once in the middle of a song. Andrew Moore stayed put behind his keyboards, but he did double duty playing bass with his left hand and piano with his right.
Some might find Field Music a little clinical (and for sure they are) but you have to admire the songcraft. And when they did address the audience, it was full of dry wit. I was charmed. The set drew mainly from new album Tones of Town, but managed to fit in "If Only the Moon Were Up" and "Shorter Shorter" from the debut as well.
This week there was some speculation about the future of the group. The band had posted on their MySpace page that they were going on "hiatus," and then they canceled a few of their final US dates. (The Bowery Show ended up as the last.) But I chatted with Peter Brewis after Field Music's set, and he put fears to rest. Canceled gigs were because the BBC had asked them to perform on the uber-cool Culture Show and "you don't turn down the BBC." As to the hiatus, it's only from the Field Music name. The three are going to continue to record together, but want to explore some new musical avenues and are going to use a different name for them. Fair enough, and I can't wait to hear what they're up to next.
It seemed like more downtime than normal between bands, but when Menomena took the stage the crowd was ready. I'll admit they really aren't my cup of tea on record (a little too prog in a way I dislike), but live they are a force. The musicianship was something to behold and I watched the drummer most of the time, while trying to ignore the saxophone. (The '80s scarred me for life on that reed instrument.) Even more instrument-switching than Field music, plus a birthday cake.
Canadians Land of Talk opened. Singer Elizabeth Powell has a lovely voice that reminds me a lot of Bettie Seveert's Carol van Dyk, which is a good thing, but I can't say that I was impressed. Maybe it was the muddy sound mix, or maybe just a lack of catchy songs, or maybe the way the drummer seemed to be counting every hit, I'm not sure. But I would give them another chance for sure.
Other attendees: Fluxblog (really good IM-style review, please read!), Chris the Music Snob (w/ pics, though I didn't see him there, weirdly), Jery Yeti, Heather Ugly Floral Blouse, Who is Liz?, and, uh, Entertainment Weekly.