For the end of the Tennis and Neil Halstead eTown show, host Nick Forster and co-host Helen Forster came on stage with both acts. Forster told us they had all learned a song that seemed appropriate for the occasion, and with Halstead on lead vocals and Alaina Moore and both Forsters on backing vocals, the temporary supergroup performed a fun yet faithful cover of "Just Like Heaven." It fit perfectly with the tenor of the whole show, with excellent performances all around and a lighthearted spirit among everyone on stage.
Tennis at eTown Hall
The night of performances started off with Denver's Tennis performing its popular early single, "Marathon." After having seen the band a handful of times across its existence, it sure seemed like Alaina Moore was much more comfortable in her skin and owning her role on stage, even though it was equally obvious she took cues from her band mates and vice versa and they worked smoothly as a team.
After "Deep in the Woods," Moore sat down with Nick Forster for an interview filled with some self-deprecating comments from Moore and gently witty banter from Forster. Apparently Moore still can't swim despite the yacht trip that inspired the group's first album. And yet, Moore reflected that the true revelation of the yacht trip wasn't so much the trip but that it allowed her to reconnect with nature. Like the moonless nights on black waters and none of the stimulation that those of us in even small towns have if we want it.
Moore also related her positive experiences on Leno and contrasted it with how in New York City for Letterman the reception wasn't as warm but that Letterman himself was cordial. Moore seemed a little nervous, but she's noticably shed the kind of deer-in-the-headlights look she sometimes had earlier in her career. Safe to say she's seen a lot these past two years and that putting your art on the line and taking risks with your life and psychic well being among strangers for weeks and months on end gives you some grace and perspective.
After the interview, Tennis did a song from its excellent second album Young & Old, a more R&B number, though that flavor flows through most of the band's material. Like that fusion of pop and R&B that existed more freely in the late '50s and '60s and seems to be making a bit of a full-fledged comeback of late.
Neil Halstead at eTown Hall
Nick Forster introduced Neil Halstead with references to his time in Slowdive and gave an uncommonly fair and accurate depiction of what Halstead has done across his career. Apparently Halstead and his musical partner John Heggie had driven fifteen hours from Minneapolis to Denver. "It was kind of less interesting than I expected," quipped Halstead good-naturedly. His second song, "Your Feet," had a vibrant, pastoral feel with speckles of notes across a rich but understated riff. With a deceptive simplicity, he created layers and shadings of tone with every song.
Neil Halstead and John Heggie at eTown Hall
The short set drew largely from Palindrome Hunches for the handful of songs he performed, including the spacious and warm "Full Moon Rising," which he performed alone to close his set. With the layering of guitar chords with a very subtle and clever use of delay, Halstead created an expansive spirit in the room.
Tennis returned to stage and started into one of its best songs, "My Better Self." Again, except for the higher fidelity of live music, it was reminiscent of some AM radio hit of four or five decades in the past. The addition of Patrick Meese on keys and guitar has freed Moore up to focus on singing even more, and with James Barone on the drums, the level of rhythmic precision, and fluidity, kept the music subtly directed.
Naturally Patrick Riley, as a guitarist and, for this night, bassist, has a keen ear for rhythm that he locks in with Barone while also maintaining a big sense of the melody -- always interesting to see. Moore called Helen Forster to the stage for the last Tennis song of the night for a duet on the breezily dynamic "It All Feels The Same."
Personal Bias: Neil Halstead's pioneering guitar sound with Slowdive is something I've loved and found inspirational since the early '90s. His decision to strip things down to a manageable size is something I understand for the poetic beauty of the music he creates now. I also like the direction Tennis has taken with its latest album, Young & Old.
Random Detail: The new eTown Hall building is apparently an eco-friendly building to the extent that's possible given the location.
By the Way: eTown is a non-profit that, among other things, schedules these shows that are part musical performance and part interview regularly and has for years. It is broadcast for independent and community radio stations across the country, and you can check out their schedule and upcoming events at http://www.etown.org.
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