If you caught Girls at Muddy Waters Café last December, you might have busily ignored the openers: sleepy-dreamy Dominant Legs, and then some kids from the Bay who sounded a lot like The Shins. But over the past four months, with a little help from Grizzly Bear Chris Taylor, those geeky kids moved to the big city and found God. Or rather, they hung out with the bassist and producer in his Brooklyn church-cum-studio, found their own distinct wall of sound, and in turn produced a really beautiful pop album. And on Sunday night at Jensen’s Mainstagethe Morning Benders made it back to their home state to show Santa Barbara that they’ve grown up.

The adorable boys from Berkeley opened the show with slow, moody “Stitches,” one of the best songs off their recently released, Big Echo. [Note: Like any good hipster, Animal Collective forever remains my favorite band, but I’ll take Panda Bear’s Beach Boy melodies over Avey Tare’s fits of freakiness — and I don’t need every emerging Williamsburg-wannabes copying their once-unique sound.] That’s what so great about appropriately-titled Big Echo; it embraces the clean, earnest qualities of 1960s pop in an era that favors the 60s’ messy lo-fi production, distortion, strange noises, and a generally abrasive sound. It’s almost uncool to be this sharp, but lead singer Chris Chu is the first to admit he’s no rock star. “I usually don’t go out on Sundays,” he told the audience, further proving his point via wearing his own band’s shirt.

Later, Chu announced, “This is a song to dance to,” before playing the ridiculously catchy “Cold War,” which happens to be my favorite track off the new album. It was a minute-and-a-half of pure, sunny bliss, tucked in amongst a set of well executed songs that dripped of nostalgia. (Particularly melancholy was a heavier track called “Hand Me Downs,” which featured layers and layers of Phil Spector’s signature production techniques.)

That sense of nostalgia turned literal with “Excuses,” the Benders’ last song of the night and the first single off Big Echo. Twinkling keys, doo-wop hand-claps, charmingly lazy guitars, and dreamy á cappella harmonies all did their part to transform Jensen’s into prom circa 1952. If you haven’t already, catch the band’s group effort performance of “Excuses” online at yourstu.ly: you can almost smell the high school gymnasium, squeaky saddle shoes, and teen lust.


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