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Photo by Ari Mygatt. June 2010.

Thursday night I bounced over to the Music Box in Hollywood to see the Morning Benders, granted admission FO FREE by the tickets I won while listening to this very radio station. Accompanied by one lucky, lucky friend, I arrived early and was therefore up front and center for the evening’s three-band lineup.

First up were Cults, the enigmatic band known for its Internet-wide buzz. As acknowledged the brochure at FYF Fest, they were a mystery for “all of ten minutes” before the Internet discovered who they were: Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion, two crazy kids out of New York who happen to make this adorable ‘60s-inspired pop. Cults’ set was short but remarkably tight, the fresh, bouncy instrumentals complemented by Follin’s pure and startlingly powerful vocals. Follin was pretty awkward in her between-song patter and when dancing during pauses in the lyrics, but seemed to transform into a completely different person while singing, when she’d push back her enviable curly brown locks and energize the rest of the band with her vocal presence. Cults sang their best-known song, “Go Outside” (rated a 9/10 on Pitchfork, don’t you know), second-to-last and closed with “Most Wanted”.

Twin Sister, a five-member band out of Long Island, was up next. Allow me to note that singer Andrea Estella, though very talented, is a little terrifying. I don’t know if she was wearing red contacts, but let me tell you, if it looks like photographers from last night forgot to fix her red-eye… they didn’t. She looks like a tiny demonic doll and has the ethereal, floating, flawless voice to match. They opened with “Milk and Honey”, the perfect showcase for Estella’s spooky croon. Though she owned most of the spotlight, angelically-voiced guitarist Eric Cardona shone when he joined in on vocals. “The Other Side of Your Face”, an epic, building jam, was the highlight of the set, though marred by slight feedback at the beginning. They closed with a cover of “I Wanna Be Your Lover” by La Bionda.

Finally, past 11, the Morning Benders roared onto stage with a bait-and-switch, riling up the crowd with the opening notes of their biggest hit “Excuses” before moving into “Promises”. Disappointingly, singer Chris Chu didn’t try for the high notes that make that song awesome, but he was spot-on for the rest of the night. The nearly hour-long set was characterized by skillful instrumentation and flawless harmonies from Chris, bassist Tim Or, and guitarist Jonathan Chu (Chris’s brother). The sexy, slow, ballad-esque “Pleasure Sighs” veered near arena rock, and Chris’s rock star posturing grew a little irritating over time; he kept drifting to the edge of the stage while he played his guitar, gazing out and basking in the female screams (he’s as baby-faced and crushable as any given K-pop star). Nonetheless, he deserves the adulation, as he proved during the sweet “Mason Jar” and crowd-pleaser “Excuses” a t the end. It irked me that the rest of the band was, literally, in shadow—Chris was the only well-lit band member on the stage—but he proved his worth with his deft guitar and distinctive, faultless vocals. Though touring their sophomore album, “Big Echo”, the band played “Damnit Anna”, “Boarded Doors”, and “Waiting for a War” from their debut, “Talking through Tin Cans”. They encored with Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”, which, though unexpected, suited the band and Chris’s voice perfectly. Apparently, it was requested several times on Twitter, and was featured on their 2008 covers album “Bedroom Covers”.

My friend and I didn’t stay to shake hands with the band (or, probably, just Chris) at the merch table, but I imagine he was swarmed by fangirls. Despite my snark over his rock-star status, I had a great time at the show and was duly impressed by his talent as well as those of his fellow band members. I’m even downloading “Bedroom Covers” right now, okay?

Reviewed by Julia Ringo

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