I've spent a lot of time lately thinking about the difference between feeling inspired by a genre/sound and being beholden to that sound. Even great bands...bands with genuine presence can feel beholden to industry trends or established successful sounds. But some bands are capable of taking these established musical paths and finding their own space within them. The music isn't wildly experimental. It just oozes genuine craft and passion and (most importantly) personality. And that's how I've always felt about Tennis
-- a band working within the synthpop framework but returning with something undeniably their own by the end.
We had the chance to catch Tennis at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on Wednesday the 13th of May, and if one word could describe the evening, it would be "pleasant." That may seem like a backhanded compliment. I swear it isn't. For years now, Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley have been constructing ornately composed pop music that is unashamedly beautiful. And while I have as much an appreciation for heavier, "uglier" music that is confrontational to the listener, there's always a place for music that is gorgeous as long as it isn't shallow. And Tennis has depth and it was on full display for the show.
The opener for the evening was Kuroma, the current project of MGMT touring guitarist Hank Sullivant. To put it mildly, Kuroma can shred. Their lead guitarist -- whose name I don't know -- was rocking a sick Meat Puppets t-shirt, but what impressed me the most was the David Gilmour-esque swirls of his guitar that were never once used as a reason to sacrifice momentum and heaviness of the track. I found myself swimming in the groove's of the band's complex guitar-rock melodies, and they were the rare opener where I wanted another 30 minutes of their performance before they left to make way for Tennis.
But Tennis did eventually take the stage and although the band's core duo remains Moore & Riley, they were joined by a full band with Moore & Riley taking front stage -- Moore on her keyboard and Riley lost in his own guitar grooves. Alaina Moore can belt. It's a talent the record uses rarely. Tennis's entire appeal is New Romantics dialed down to gorgeous understatement, but Moore's voice live is a different experience. She segues effortlessly between sensual crooning and never quite a full-throated roar but a emotive bellow that fills the rock clubs they call home on the road. Ritual In Repeat
was one of last year's best pop records, and as the band tours in support of the deluxe edition of the record, it's clear that it's an album that still has legs.