October 11, 2010 | 11:35am
Morning Benders, Twin Sister, Cults
The Kessler Theater
Saturday, October 9
Better than: Just about any show I've seen in several years.
The competition on Saturday night was stiff--maybe one of the toughest weekends of the year to draw a crowd. With the Austin City Limits spillover effect in full force, picking a show was close to impossible.
The National played House Of Blues. Devendra Banhart played at South Side Music Hall. It left The Morning Benders, Twin Sister, and Cults to pick up the leftovers at The Kessler Theater. Even with the Gorilla vs. Bear logo slapped across the top, it was definitely the underdog show of Saturday night, but you wouldn't have guessed it based on the raucous crowd that all but rushed the stage during Morning Benders' set.
When Morning Benders picked up their instruments and hit the first notes of "Promises," there was an expectancy in the air from the band members as well as the audience. The Grizzly Bear-influenced song went over energetically but mechanically--almost like they needed time to shake off some cobwebs. Their performance at The Kessler was billed as the first show on the tour, but it was evident that the band has played each song from their 2010 record Big Echo hundreds of times.
So it wasn't too surprising during a few brief moments early in the set when it felt like they were going through the motions, and were even bored at times. But it didn't take long for the complacency to wear off.
The breakthrough happened on "Stitches." The slow build into a huge release riled the excitable crowd into somewhat of a frenzy. Then on "All Day Daylight," a full-blown dance party broke out in the first few rows of the audience.
Lead singer Chris Chu asked for some audience participation on "Excuses," the last song of the set. He got rid of his guitar, walked to the edge of the catwalk, and led the crowd in a fun bar room sing-along.
By the end of their set, they had put a smile on the face of almost everyone in the room with their sunny California pop. But they made one mistake--having Twin Sister in the support slot. They are a nearly impossible act to follow.
The Long Island quintet played an electrifying set of indie soul. Magnetic lead singer Andrea Estella sang confidently on the catwalk with her distinguished breathy vocal. The tight backing band emitted a full wall of sound augmented perfectly by Eric Cardona's impeccable guitar plucks. Their set pulsed with understated grooves, big releases, and dreamy guitars. It was a truly transcendental performance--the highlight of the evening to be certain.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for blog darlings Cults, whose performance was underwhelming until the very end when it was almost salvaged by their two singles "Go Outside," and "Oh My God."
Personal Bias: I came to this show expecting the least from Twin Sister, but came away as a huge fan.
By The Way:
This was my first time to visit the Kessler Theater, and it might be my favorite concert venue in town. The sound was mixed perfectly all night, the foyer was filled with the work of local artists, and the venue smelled like burning incense.