When it comes to creating music, Portland, Oregon-based experimental rockers Menomena have always functioned as a family unit, with each member having an equal hand in the songwriting process. This is fitting, because in many ways a band can be a peculiar imitation of a standard nuclear family. And so, in 2010 when long-time band member Brent Knopf left the group to pursue another project, Menomena reacted accordingly to the lessening of their core collective.
Following a brief stint of reflection, remaining members Justin Harris and Danny Seim made the decision to soldier on as a duo, and the result was 2012’s Moms, the group’s most highly personal album to date. With lyrics inspired by Seim’s own mother, who passed away when he and Harris were juniors in high school, the group addresses the fact that they had been alive as long they were when Seim’s mother died, and the implications such a fact can bring to a pair of friends. Broadening this deeply personal struggle to explore themes of interpersonal relationships and parental influences, Moms has proved to be both very well received by fans and the vanguard for a new future Menomena touring as a duo.
Such is the state that saw Menomena enter Iowa City to play the Mill in front of an enthusiastic and devoted group of fans. Following a strong opening from locals The Olympics, Menomena took the stage and immediately launched into some of their more recent material, which was met to great appraise. Standout tracks “Plumage” and “Pique”- both from Moms- saw their arrival early in the set and served to stir the crowd into collective sway that lasted for the remainder of the show.
Primarily on display on Tuesday night was the somewhat daunting musical talent exhibited by all four members of the touring band. Upon reflection, it appears more difficult than one would think to say with certainty whether front man Justin Harris wielded the same instrument for more than two songs at a time throughout the entire set. From bass to saxophone, electric guitar to simple recorder, Harris demonstrated a wide range of musical prowess, all the while providing understated yet heartfelt vocals. Seim meanwhile laid down some truly impressive rhythms in extremely unique time signatures from behind the drum kit, a hallmark of the band, while also providing vocals on many of the tracks.
Closing the set with a pair of old standards, Menomena let loose with energy and enthusiasm, which carried over into the crowd. And so it seems that with a collection of devoted fans and an invigorating sense of optimism towards songwriting driving them, Menomena is showing no signs of slowing any time soon.