Review: Broken Bells SXSW

Photos of Broken Bells at C3 by Anthony Demby
Photos of Broken Bells at Dickies Live by Gravity 508.

Is Dangermouse the Quincy Jones of our generation?

I wouldn’t go that far. Even with all his accomplishments, Mouse still doesn’t have as many gold and platinum plaques as Quincy, or even contemporaries like Timbaland, Kanye, or the Neptunes. However, there is no producer as diverse as Dangermouse in our generation. Just think about it. He’s gone from hip-hop, to psychedelic trip-hop, and now to rock.

This brings us to Broken Bells, Dangermouse’s latest project with Shin’s guitarist James Mercer, famous for releases like Wincing the Night Away. The result of the pairing is an album that shows a side of Dangermouse that is even more different from his previous effort on the Black Key’s Attack and Release. Broken Bells, the band’s new self-titled album, is a blend of folk and indie rock. The band entered the SXSW festival already on “buzzed” status, with a top 10 Billboard album debut and previous sold-out show at a parking deck in downtown Austin. “Buzz” aside, are they really worth the hype?

In a word. Yes.

Broken Bells might not have the pop appeal of Gnarls Barkley, nor the upbeat stylistics of The Black Keys, but the band was one of the tightest acts I saw at the festival last week. Dangermouse is notoriously shy, and during a Broken Bells performance, much like with Gnarls Barkley, he sits noticeably in the background, his shades and afro doing little to hide his anonymity. Their set pretty much went through their album from beginning to end, with the only exception being the crowd-pleasing cover song “4 Leaf Clover,” towards the end of the 45 minutes.

The only issue I had with the show? Sometimes it stuck a little too close to the script at points. There was little variation between what you hear on the audio and what you see live. No blaring guitar solos or dramatic chord changes here. Not that I’m saying it’s a bad thing.