Live Review: BANNERS, POP ETC, and Moth and the Flame last night at Brighton Music Hall


In a way, it was as if the Ghosts of Music Past decided to visit us three times in a row, only fully succeeding in showing us how to move forward the second time around.

On a warm, beautiful March night in Allston, the Ghosts of Music Past decided to visit us three distinct times in a row at Brighton Music Hall, only fully succeeding in showing us how to move forward each second time around. About a hundred people had gathered last night (March 7) for a triple-header bill of BANNERS, POP ETC, and The Moth and the Flame, and it was an odd line-up that seemed completely uncertain until the music began.

Bay Area indie band POP ETC, the first act, were arguably the most experienced group that appeared on the stage last night. Formerly known as The Morning Benders, they experienced a wave of popularity when they received some critical acclaim for their 2010 release, Big Echo. After discovering that the word “bender” is considered a homophobic slur in some parts of the European Union, they made the drastic choice to abandon the name that they’d found success with, and instead strike it out as a new outlet, with a new sound. They dispatched with the ’60s surf-rock type tunes, and replaced that sound with a blandish type of synth-pop, as if you’d flash-frozen an indie group from the early 2010s and put them on stage to thaw years later.


That isn’t meant to be totally damning. The group definitely does have their inspired moments, most found in playful romps like “Vice” and “Running in Circles.” Both of those tracks owe a great debt to artists like The Human League and, more specifically, Tears for Fears, whose own seminal track, “Mad World”, was covered in the middle of their set — and traditionally, unlike Gary Jules’ version. Regardless, the show-stopper of POP ETC’s time on stage was the lone Morning Benders song that they played, “Excuses,” an absolutely gorgeous work of ’50s-inspired crooner balladry that stood so apart from everything else that they had played that one last, someone might have figured another band had taken the stage in the space between songs.

The second and most visibly promoted was BANNERS, the stage name of Liverpudlian musician Mike Nelson. Riding high off of a successful EP release, Nelson drew the most people, and the audience swelled to about a hundred. BANNERS is an interesting project, and it seems that Nelson wants to merge two very different periods in British music together, as he takes bits and pieces from early aughts pop music — the keyboard parts strewn throughout each song are reminiscent of Keane’s debut record, and bits and pieces of orchestration evoke “Yellow”-era Coldplay — and modern, Sam Smith-falsetto vocals and merges them together to make music that sounds familiar yet foreign. It also helps that he’s adorable on stage, in a silly English way that drove people in the audience wild. “I appreciate your doughnuts,” he said at one point between tracks, “but do you just call [a Boston creme] a ‘creme’ here?” Tracks like “Ghosts” and single “Shine a Light” act as amazing vocal showcases, and Nelson has the chops to sustain the promise of his stage presence. Big things await.

Third and final act, Los Angeles’ The Moth and the Flame took the stage right as the clock struck ten. “This is the warmest place we’ve been on this tour,” vocalist Brandon Robbins joked, and they began their set with hot and heavy “Red Flag,” which acts as an excellent thesis statement for what they’re trying to do as a group — hard-ish emo styled indie rock, full of sound and fury. As far as I’m concerned, Robbins should find a side-gig as a Robert Smith impersonator, because at points throughout their set I could have sworn the Cure frontman was up on stage. His vocal takes were amongst the highlights of the set, as everything else, from the construction of their songs to the harmonies, seemed sort of generic. Not bad, mind you, but sort of played out. The dark, propulsive “Empire and the Sun” and the sad and cathartic “Wishing Well” proved to be highlights, but their 35 minute set was over so quickly it was as if they’d perfectly timed it with the end of the Bruins game. It was as if they’d been dragged off stage by some vaudevillian cane in the middle of their act, and because of that abrupt ending, it was hard to leave feeling completely satisfied. But there are worse ways to spend an early-March Monday evening in Allston.


Follow Nick Johnston on Twitter @onlysaysficus.