Tennis at Music Hall of Williamsburg, May 13, 2015
By Stephanie Roush
When the band members of Tennis walked on stage at Music Hall of Williamsburg without frontwoman Alaina Moore, it was clear that something was missing. Lead guitarist Patrick Riley picked up his sexy white guitar and dove straight into “Never Work for Free” off their most recent album, Ritual In Repeat. The bassist and drummer joined him in the soft, beachy grooves of the song as the audience waited in hot anticipation. But still no Moore.
Finally, the stage’s side door opened and out walked Moore wearing this. The crowd erupted as she took her place behind the keyboard and mic and went straight into the first line: “I’ll never work for free.” With a voice like hers she will never need to.
From the outset it was clear whose show it was. While Riley, Moore’s husband and other founding band member, can hold his own on lead guitar, he lacks the charisma and charm of Moore. She commands the stage and the crowd, teeming with an electric bubbliness that is impossible to resist.
The band breezed through tracks like “Timothy” and “Solar on the Rise” before launching into the sultry “Dimming Light” from their EP, Small Sound. “We never play this song live – this is just a little treat for you New York,” said Moore. Her voice shined on the powerful riffs on a track that is the closest thing the band has to a pop ballad. “Dimming Light” was a turning point for the band, providing them with the musical space to dig deeper into the subtle psych-rock grooves that the band has incorporated into their sound lately.
A couple of songs later, Moore announced “this is an old one” as Riley began the instantly recognizable “Marathon,” the single that launched the band’s career. The sleepy doowop of “Marathon” that relies heavily on fuzzy 60s guitar riffs and Moore’s sweet-as-sugar vocals stand in stark contrast to their funk-laden, louder tracks off the most recent record.
The chemistry between Riley and Moore was palpable the whole show. After all, it was their cutesy hipster love story of buying a sailboat together, sailing it down the East coast and then returning home to Denver to write an album (2011’s Cape Dory) about it that made them indie-famous in the first place.
The second to last song of Tennis’ set was my favorite of the night: “I’m Callin’” from Ritual In Repeat. The 70s disco groove pulsing in the background complemented Moore’s slinky voice, creating the perfect balance of instrumentation and vocals. It was Tennis showing their ability to expand their previously over-simplified sound to encompass new genres as they channeled the likes of disco heroes the BeeGees and Donna Summer. Even the drummer and bassist, who for most of the night seemed disposable, felt necessary to the pseudo-electronic melody Moore played on the keys.
The final song was the standout of the encore, for which just Moore and Riley remained on stage. Moore locked eyes with Riley as she confessed, “This is the most personal song I’ve ever written.” Riley slowly starting playing the opening riff of “Bad Girls” as Moore sang the first lines, “Even bad girls can do good things / even bad girls can have holy dreams.” “Bad Girls” is a slow-burner of a song, building beautifully on Riley’s low-key instrumentation to reach a powerful crescendo brimming with emotion.
Tennis put on a great show, oscillating between the bubble-gum dream pop of their past records and the funkier, unpolished disco-rock of Ritual In Repeat. While Riley’s prowess as a guitarist was apparent, Moore stole the show from the first note to the last. Tennis is a band still in its adolescence; I’m excited for what the future holds for them.