Review: Tennis at Bluebird Theater, 2/16/12


For a band whose music is so bright and sunny, the tinge of melancholia that swirled around "Waterbirds" gave this Tennis performance an otherworldly feel. The breakdown section in the middle was one of the most evocative moments of the entire night. Patrick Riley and Nathan Pemberton created a surprising depth of atmosphere between their two guitars that stirred the spirit. With Alaina Moore's melodious voice weaving imagery and emotional memories together and James Barone setting a moody cadence beneath with gentle percussive textures inside the shimmer of guitar, it was a memorable moment.

Tennis started its set off the show with "Deep in the Woods." With four members of the live band, this was a Tennis with a fuller, richer sound. It was a subtle change but with Pemberton playing bass on the Hammond XK-1, there was a boost to the overall impact of the music. After "Never to Part," Moore told us that since this was the band's first show after the release of the album, they were offering it at cost for the CD at $5.

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For someone who has played scores of shows across the US and beyond, Moore still seemed slightly awkward with the stage banter, but this was endearing because her obviously sincere thank yous throughout the set never seemed perfunctory. The Stereolab-esque "It All Feels the Same" showcased the band's ability to stretch well outside the format we may have become used to on Cape Dory in texture and tones.

"The High Road" was one of the high points of the show because of the sheer exuberance of the entire band's delivery. Riley hunched over his guitar often and did this dance where he seems to be moving on one foot while jumping backwards and forward even more animatedly during this song, and the smile on James Barone's face made it obvious that everyone on stage was caught up in the moment, too.

Before "My Better Self," Moore brought the women from Paper Bird on stage to sing backing vocals, which they did admirably for the rest of the main set. That song performed live sounded like a beautiful blend of a '70s R&B song and Flaming Lips without the surrealistic lyrics. One of the other great performances of the night came during "Origins," in which Moore's face showed obvious strains of emotion. She evoked the memory of feeling each song called forth but none more so than in this song, and her delivery was especially soulful here.

Before the last song, Moore informed us that "This is the best show we've had in Denver, and this room is kind of scary." The main set then ended with "Petition," and Moore took the mike and stood center stage dancing animatedly, while the whole band made it feel like we were seeing some long-forgotten R&B band of old -- if Dolly Parton, whose voice Moore's resembles, had teamed up with a branch of the Funk Brothers.

The crowd wasn't letting Tennis off that easy, even though it had played fifteen songs, and the core band came back to play "Bimini Bay" and "Long Boat Pass." Not a bum note the whole show and songs that I had been lukewarm about in the past took on a whole new life.

The evening started off with Moon Tides. The duo faced each other with Lexa playing the drums standing up and Dillon playing guitar, both singing. It was a pretty stripped-down presentation, but it suited the dreamlike purity of the performance, even when the music had some earthy grit to the delivery in the rhythms and jagged side of the guitar tones. Wistful in tone, the songs transported your mood off to some place where the surf always seems to come in warm and the days always seem calm.

Between sets, Samurai Buck performed his electronic compositions, all along to a sequenced electronic beat. Sometimes the music sounded like the sonic equivalent of a pixelated image with some reverse delay, sampled and set to floating with other fragments of melody -- like IDM dub abstracted even further. Other times, it was like an 8-bit video game soundtrack, chopped up and put it back together. Probably most of the audience didn't register that he was playing actual music, but the juxtaposition of the inspired landscaping seemed like a welcome and complementary contrast to the pop music of the rest of the artists.

Mike Marchant's Outer Space Party Unit was a five-piece this time out with the addition of Andy Hamilton, Marchant's compatriot in the now defunct Houses, on keyboards and guitar. Otherwise it was Mark Weaver on bass, Grant Israel on guitar and Fernando Guzman on drums. Guzman had on a shirt bearing a pot leaf that would light up with green light when he activated some kind of sensor. After the first song, Grant Israel told a joke. "How many kids with ADD does it take to screw in a light bulb?" Answer: "Wanna go ride bikes?"

With a seven song set that included great songs like "Mexico" with its air of uncertainty and "You Were a Runner" about the uncertainty of relationships, the Outer Space Party Unit made countrified space rock, psychedelic power pop and fiery psych-folk resonate with a curiously defiant melancholy air. It's that diverse combination along with a powerful yet sensitive rhythm section that makes that music compelling.


Personal Bias: I really wanted to see if the Young and Old material live is as great as on record, and I was impressed.

Random Detail: Ran into the philosopher Sergio Gutierrez at the show.

By the Way: Cape Dory is good and has some truly fine moments, but Young & Old is excellent beginning to end.

Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music

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