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Arts and Entertainment

Girls and The Morning Benders @ The Troubadour, 12/5/09

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The Morning Benders are one of those bands who's promise is achingly painful to watch. They've got pretty piano melodies, poppy guitars, and sweetly high pitched harmonies: all of the ingredients for an infectious pop album, and somehow they fall a little bit short. It's like when you try and bake a cake without the baking powder. All of the parts are there, but the damn thing won't rise.

After seeing them at the Echo last year in support of their debut, Talking Through Tin Cans, I had high hopes that they had matured and improved. These hopes were elevated to record highs when lead singer, Chris Chu, strode out on stage and announced that tonight would be all new material from their upcoming sophomore disk that will be released in the spring. But then they began, and it was the same pleasant, unadventurous rock that had appeared on their first disk. It was enough to make you scream, "For God's sake men, take some risks!" Rock 'n' roll should be many things, but safe is not one of them. Nor should it ever be predictable. I would rather have a show be god awful sounding and interesting, then have it watered down and neutered.

And then, right at the end, after I had given up hope Chu announced to us that it was "time to find your groove, guys," and launched into something that actually sparkled. Their new track "All Day Daylight" was everything the rest of the set lacked. It had a funky bass line, the tempo was sped up, there was an interesting guitar solo, and by God, you actually wanted to dance to it. It was all the sign I needed. My hopes are back up. The Morning Benders are back on the list of bands to watch. It might not be the next album, or the one after, but I think there is a great one lurking inside those boys from Berkley somewhere. They just need to find the guts to play it.

Girls had no such confidence problems. Frontman Chris Owens strolled around the Troubadour in bright red tights, an over sized Bush tour t-shirt, and a red high school varsity jacket the way Kurt Cobain used to stroll around in his moth eaten cardigans, looking a mess, but radiating a "like I give a fuck what I'm wearing," attitude that has launched hundreds of fashion trends (mostly because that attitude can be faked, but never bought.) Don't be surprised if bright red high school varsity jackets start appearing on the street. There is nothing more appealing in rock 'n' roll (and possibly life) than confidence and Girls had it in spades. And why not? Riding high upon glowing critical success for their debut LP, Album, their Troubadour show had been sold out for weeks.

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Girls strength is in the honesty of their lyrics. The sunny surf rock music reminiscent of Elvis Costello that envelopes them is catchy, but it's the lyrics that will wrap their fingers around your heart and cling to your ventricles. They are not for the faint of heart. Owens writes about well covered subjects like break ups, longing, and everyone's favorite, regret with a fresh honesty that is mesmerizing. For example in "Laura" he spells things out with a bluntness that almost hurts, "You've been a bitch, I've been an ass/ I don't wanna point the finger; I just know I don't like this, I don't wanna do this." Or in "Hellhole Ratrace," "I'm sick and tired of the way that I feel/ I'm sick of dreaming and it's never for real./I'm all alone with my deep thoughts./I'm all alone with my heartache and my good intentions." Is it an album to listen to every day? Probably not. But is it an album that one wants to listen to in the darkness of your room after a breakup? Oh yes.

It's odd to hear them live though. Not because of the content, but because a significant amount of people who were there weren't listening at all and were just trying to hook up with their date. I actually saw a couple making out in the back to "Big Bad Mean Motherfucker," which may win my award for Oddest Hookup at the Troubadour sighted this year. Or they were bouncing along to "Lust for Life" without a care in the world. It was almost as if there were two crowds there that night. One containing a somber, heartbroken bunch who had come to listen to Owens' powerfully honest lyrics, and one containing giggly scenesters who had come there to dance. Strange as it sounds, I think we all went home satisfied.