The Morning Benders and The Submarines at The BiltmorePhotos by Alex Ramon
Do you ever have moments in your life when you wish you were someone else? Sometimes (and when I say sometimes I mean all the time) I have moments where I just wish I could jump on that stage and rock out with the bands I review. I love music, every little bit of it, from conception till its natural end (whatever that means), and it will always have an impact on my life. I’ve never met a person who didn’t like music (well actually that’s a lie…I used to work with this girl who honestly said she did not like music…and that’s why we aren’t friends…), and I’ve never met a person who didn’t want to live the life of a rock star (OK maybe that’s a lie too…I don’t think my parents like the whole idea of sex, drugs, and rock n roll). I’ve tried to be a rock star, but that just didn’t turn out (probably because my music was…let’s just say it was interesting). I’ve accepted my fate as a writer and not as a musician (I think I picked the write one…GET IT!), but I really doubted my choice when I caught The Morning Benders open up for The Submarines at The Biltmore. It wasn’t because there music was anything like my own (far from it actually… they’re good…I was not…), but because two of the members were Asian. I looked on stage and saw myself, just a little taller and a tad bit skinnier, but nonetheless it was like looking in the mirror. But being the professional that I am, I did not let that cloud my judgement when I wrote this review.
This up and coming act has everything you need. From stage presence to catchy melodies, The Morning Benders are a band to watch out for in the near future. Essentially started in 2005, Chris Chu launched a solo project with just his laptop and mic, recording an EP titled “Loose Change.” Soon after in 2007, Chris asked some of his UC Berkeley classmates to join him and The Morning Benders were formed. Comprised of the aforementioned Chris Chu on vocals/guitar, Julian Marmon on drums, Joe Ferrell on guitar, and Tim Or on bass, this Bay area quartet recorded another EP titled “Boarded Doors,” which was a great success with local publications as well as fans alike. This encouraged Chris to take on a part-time job as an engineer at Different Fur Studios, which funded TMB’s full-length album “Talking Through Tin Cans” under the +1 Record Label. Playing with such bands as Death Cab For Cutie, The Kooks, and MGMT, TMB have crafted their music and spread their love across the States. With this much success at an early stage, I was anxious to catch their live performance.
I got to The Biltmore a little early, before any of the bands got on stage, and as usual I scoped out the crowd to get a feel for what the night was going to be like. I saw two very young looking Asians, one on his laptop and the other drinking a nice tall pint. My first thought was, “Boy they just get younger and younger these days…” Little did I know, these two strapping young lads were Chris and Tim from TMB. I didn’t realize how young this band was, not saying that I’m old or anything, but I’m used to watching facial haired men rock out on stage, thus feeling like a baby faced fan. I was pleasantly surprised to see such a youthful band have this much success at an early age.
All their songs are very catchy, tunes that get stuck in your head for the right reason (damn you Britney Spears and your hard hitting, sexual songs!). They have simple, but effective, guitar riffs as well as beautiful vocal harmonies, a formula that catches people’s attention and sucks them in to their up-beat music. They remind me of The Killers, Vampire Weekend, The Strokes, and even The Beatles (possibly because Chu has the same haircut).
The one thing I really love about this band is that they showcase and profile the instruments. Not all the focus is on Chris, but instead the spotlight shines on everyone in the band. But that’s not to say Chris isn’t a great frontman. Far from it actually, because he even commented on Vancouver being the, and I quote, “BEST PLACE IN THE UNIVERSE.” It’s good to hear it from someone other than a Vancouver-ite once in a while.
Winning the crowd over with that statement, they played a sing-a-long track titled “Grain of Salt,” where the audience sang “yeah yeah yeah” in the key of C+. That’s my favourite key, and TMB were wise enough to exploit that, rousing the horde of people to give them a very warming ovation.
The Submarines are like The White Stripes. They’re both couples (one married and the other denying any marriage because they’re “brother and sister”… like we believe that Jack). The comparisons, however, stop there because The Submarines sound nothing like them. This indie pop group consists of John Dragonetti (awesome last name by the way…) and Blake Hazard (another awesome last name by the way…) who met in Boston while doing their own solo projects. Soon after, they became musically and romantically involved which led to the formation of The Submarines. They moved to LA to pursue their career, but eventually fell apart. They continued working together, with Dragonetti producing Blake’s songs (awkward…), co-writing on each other’s break-up tracks (even more awkward…). To some extent, I guess that was therapeutic, because they eventually got back together and married a few years later. The album was titled “Declare a New State!” and was released on the Nettwerk label in 2006. It was a dark album, dealing with the hardships of their separation, and in 2008 they followed up their success by releasing their new album “Honeysuckle Weeks.” Their smash hit (if I can call it that) “You Me And The Bourgeoisie” was featured on the iPhone commercials, and their song “Xavia” was featured in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. This has brought them even more viable success, with fans google-ing the name of their songs no doubt.
After the TMB set, my dancing shoes were already warmed up (they’re actually Vans slip-ons… and I didn’t actually dance, it was more of a 2-step from side to side). On the drive over, I had my radio turned onto Vancouver’s newest (and awesomeist) radio station 100.5 The Peak, and low and behold, who was on the radio you ask? Well none other than The Submarines! I got a taste of what I would be getting into, and their charm shined throughout the airwaves.
The stage was all set up quite nicely, a little hippie-ish actually, with flowers streamed throughout the mic stands and drums. As soon as the curtains lifted, hipsters, no relation to hippies, swarmed from the corners of the room and emerged onto the dance floor.
John and Blake have a strong connection on stage, which is probably why they’re married, and their perma-smiles lead me to believe they’re still a happy couple. They both play with such passion, stealing glances between each other and the audience (so I guess this is what love looks like…), and their energy is just infectious, leading the crowd to skip and hop around like mad. Blake alternated between tambourine, guitar, and glockenspiel, while still maintaining her soulful yet cheerful voice. Her sweet and tender voice, accompanied by her powerful personality provided more than enough flavour on stage to keep the crowd entertained. John was no slouch by any means, because when he started singing, it felt like a completely different band. It went from being poppy dance music to Velvet Underground-ish (I just realised I have a lot of –ish in this article, so I guess that will be the word of the day!).
The fans no doubt recognized the two previous mentioned songs and they went wild for it. Watching people dance and sing-a-long to those melodic tracks was a highlight for me, and made me stop and think for a minute, all the while tuning out to the loud applause radiating from the crowd. Everyone in that venue attended something that will probably never happen again. To have a band of such calibre play at such a small, intimate venue like The Biltmore (and when I say small it’s not an insult by any means) will never happen again. The Submarines will be huge and this show will be but a lasting memory for the teens in the audience, who will one day grow up and tell their children about how they witnessed a band rise from obscurity to fame. They deserve a much bigger stage, and that is exactly what they will get when they play The Sasquatch Festival.