Menomena + Pit Er Pat

[22 March 2005]

By Zack Adcock


Menomena
Pit Er Pat

Despite the room’s sonic superiority, 75 people in a place as big as The Highdive seems like nothing. This Saturday night show was poorly attended, like most early performances in this town.

Of course, I only mention it in passing. The small size of the crowd didn’t seem to affect the bands, with the exception of the occasional tongue-in-cheek comment regarding the DJ/dance party later that night; the club’s weekend moneymaker. The fans that did make it were the dedicated few. Most of them knew Menomena’s songs and rocked along equally hard to Pit Er Pat.

Pit Er Pat’s stuttering organic glitch pop is a neurotic collection of eerie keyboard/organ leads accompanied by a rhythm section whose batteries, let’s say, are perpetually fresh. Known only as Butchy Fu Ego in the liner notes of the band’s recently release Shakey, Pit Er Pat’s drummer is uncanny. He drives the band’s haunted carnival sound, akin to Blonde Redhead, becoming ever more apparent as he flails about the kit.

This is what live music allows us to see. Listening to Shakey, where the drums are simply one part of a greater whole, one gets the feeling that this thing is vocalist/keyboardist Fay Davis-Jeffers’s show. Seeing all three performers recreate the sound before our eyes changes the story. Pit Er Pat is a group of three talented players presented under the guise of one solid unit.

The band’s strength lies in its rhythm. This makes some sense; after all, the band’s compositions are almost entirely rhythm. Some songs are more full than others, leading to more exciting performance pieces. In “Vultures Beware”, for example, you can hear the building sound, even on the recorded version. But live, the way the instruments come together for the song’s climax is breathtaking.

As listeners, we begin to realize that it’s one thing to pull off a stunning moment in the studio, but to be able to recreate it live is something else. Such is the magic Pit Er Pat brings to the stage, or that the stage brings to Pit Er Pat.

Menomena’s show works as something of a companion piece to Pit Er Pat’s. The band’s rhythmic qualities don’t take the stage in the same way; instead it’s their patchwork songwriting that stands out.

Patchwork songwriting? This band bases its song structures around “Deeler”, a computer program written for the band by its members. The program pieces the songs together with loops and layers, creating what we know to be a song from a series of sounds. What all this means is that Menomena’s songs are created in a truly unconventional nature, forcing the band to first make the songs and then, once finished, to learn them in order to play them live.

Deeler’s heralded debut on the band’s I Am The Fun Blame Monster made it the most publicized of Menomena’s band members, leading most to overlook the living members and their skill. Its presence also pulls into question the band’s ability to translate live.

After this bizarre songwriting process is said and done, Menomena takes the road as a three piece touring band armed with two saxophones, two guitars, a bass, electric piano and organ, xylophone, a drum kit, and three solid voices. Seeing the miscellany of instruments involved proves not only that the music is more complicated than it sounds, but that this band—after taking a step with Deeler that might turn the noses of songwriting purists up at the band—truly does flesh out the songs live.

What you don’t get in Menomena is a band whose live sound pales in comparison to its recorded one. Whereas many bands might flail and falter to find a happy medium between this novelty songcraft and a live performance, Deeler’s presence is simply not felt in the live environment. It’s as if these songs were created organically.

So in the end, no harm, no foul. You get great songs, a solid performance, and you leave even more impressed that this band can create this whole new songwriting process and still pull off a great live show. There’s no glitch or drawback about Menomena; it’s the real deal.

These two bands are working hard to push the bar, ultimately leaving them each in an outlandish position. Most of us are interested in not only where music is but also where it’s going. Menomena and Pit Er Pat are both bands to watch, bands whose creative strengths lay in something off-kilter. They’re intriguing but also accessible enough to remain within reach. So, get to reaching.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/menomena-050305/