Broken Bells put little at risk Wednesday night at the Civic.

Broken Bells photo by Patrick Ainsworth
By Patrick Ainsworth

[Updated] Near the end of Broken Bells’ show at the Civic Theatre Wednesday night, singer James Mercer went for a dramatic moment, but instead of moving closer to the crowd, he moved toward the back of the stage. There, a light on the floor trained on him cast a 10 to 15 foot tall shadow on the backdrop behind him. Like everything else in the show, it worked on - it looked cool - but it also contributed to the general air of remoteness of the show. By the end of the night, we knew nothing more about Mercer and Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) than we did when the show started.

In that way, the show was of a piece with After the Disco, the band’s recent album. It’s a thoroughly professional document of two guys who’ve discovered they have a good working relationship, but it doesn’t sound like anything’s on the line. I don’t need high drama and epic stakes in all the music I listen to, and I understand musicians choosing to document a functional relationship in an industry rife with dysfunctional ones. Still, it doesn’t sound like Mercer or Danger Mouse would have lost more than an hour or two of sleep if that music didn’t get out, and the show had a similar vibe. The two performed in suits, and neither became so physically engaged that they he had to shed his jacket. “You seem pretty lively,” Mercer said without a hint of irony in one of the few times that he addressed the sold out crowd.

Broken Bells by Patrick AinsworthJames Mercer of Broken Bells at the Civic Theatre, by Patrick Ainsworth

Fortunately, there were the songs, which work. Performed as a four-piece, the electropop in the Broken Bells’ songs came to the fore, but Mercer and Danger Mouse are too smart and talented to put a bunch of shit songs onstage. From the opening “Perfect World” to the odd final encore, “October” - a little pokey to send people out into the night - the songs were well-crafted and physically engaging. Some guys in front of me had a bro moment to “Holding on for Life,” and the crowd was all in for the set closing “The High Road.”

And with the exception of the down tempo encore, the set was smartly arranged. Just at the point when I was starting to notice that the songs didn’t have much breathing room in them, they slowed things down and left space for a whistling solo in “The Angel and The Fool.” At the point when good songs were about to stop being enough, Mercer shook of some of his detachment and became more physical and passionate, which brought the last third of the set to life. 

In fact, everything about the show seemed sensible down to the Ikea furnishings onstage. But I rarely go to rock ’n’ roll for sensible.

Broken Bells by Patrick AinsworthBroken Bells at the Civic, by Patrick Ainsworth

Broken Bells by Patrick AinsworthJames Mercer of Broken Bells, by Patrick Ainsworth

Updated March 15, 7:10 a.m.

This post was updated to include photos from the show by Patrick Ainsworth.