Everything written about Tennis starts with the backstory. This reviewer sees no way out of this pattern. So here we go again (briefly): A young married couple from Denver graduate from college, sell their worldy-possesions, and buy a 30-foot sailboat. Thereafter, they spend a year sailing along the Eastern seaboard, get home, and make an album about it. That album is called Cape Dory and the retro-stylings of its charming and cozy pop tunes feel, well, charming and cozy. That is to say, it's a nice listen in the same way Notting Hill is a nice watch. It will be a pleasant distraction for some and too saccharine for others.
I sense a big reason they've caught the indie-music internet wave is something related to the way people are fascinated with Vampire Weekend. In the same way VW's Ivy League narrative has become fundamentally inseperable from their music to many, the quaint romantic sailboat story presents its own ethereal dream to either cherish or dispute. The starlit simplicty of the Tennis backstory is contained in the DNA of many of our aspirations. The idea of getting away from our desk jobs, finding peace in nature, accompanied by our one and only lovers. But it's a dream so quaint that I wonder what portion of their target audience's reaction is a cynical one. The messy class and lifestyle issues that figure strongly into this picture (remember, this band is called Tennis), I think, run at the core of our fascination with this band. It shows how we can't escape this sort of contextualization in pop music. Afterall, it's a fascination that has little to nothing to do with the charm of their sound.
It was a relieving experience seeing Tennis at Mississippi Studios on Saturday night. Performing as a trio, they had a big sound rounded out in equal parts by full-bodied tube distorted guitar and plodding electric organ. The band had a polite stage demeanor, charging through their setlist with little banter besides a quiet "thank you" here and there from singer Alaina Moore (pictured right). Moore's voice was, above all, the featured instrument of the night, especially when she stretched into high notes reflecting girl-group Bangles and, at times with a twangy inflection, Stevie Nicks. The songs from Cape Dory (i.e. their entire setlist) translated well in performance as the band pulled off a sound that was true to the album's charm, while unmistakably pulling it off as a rock band. In their quaint understated way, Tennis managed to be pretty rad.
I would be remiss to fail to mention the Portland band Dirty Mittens who opened the show (after Brooklyn's Air Waves). In many very noticable ways, they played the best set of the night with a large number of the sold-out Mississippi crowd being coaxed into their dancing shoes by the band's soulful Motown-styled pop. Singer Chelsea Morrisey (pictured below) was (in a good way) a sort of Amy Winehouse doppelganger, not just by virtue of her strong vocal performance, but also through an engaging stage charisma. The released a 7" at the end of 2010 (they also did an in-studio session in 2009). Hope there's more to look forward to in 2011.
Tagged: live review