Tennis Move on Up

March 3rd, 2011

Tennis – The Bowery Ballroom – March 2, 2011

There were two types of buzz floating around Tennis’ sold-out gig at The Bowery Ballroom last night. The first was the kind that allows a band that’s only been playing music for eight months to do a “Hey, this is easy!” sellout of the Ballroom on the first try. The second buzz was more literal: a sound emanating from Patrick Riley’s guitar amp that filled the room between songs and also served as an example of Tennis only being a band for eight months, since they don’t yet have a guy to come out and make the noise stop. By the time the brisk set ended, though, both buzzes had faded away to reveal the strength of the music, and the husband-and-wife team shone through quite clearly, with no additional hype needed.

The Tennis sound is 100 percent retro: a breezy, stripped-down ’60s pastiche. Riley’s guitar was bare with a hint of surf reverb recalling rock and roll’s earliest incarnations, the drummer backing with pure Richard Starkey beats, while Riley’s wife, Alaina Moore, doubled up, swirling a Hammond organ while singing with a singular voice that was like Joni Mitchell singing the Ronettes and sounding damn good doing it.

The legend goes that their repertoire was written while Riley and Moore were sailing seat-of-their-pants style up the East Coast. The songs reflect a couple living an easy boat life, with song titles seemingly as simple as where the songs were written, like “Baltimore” and “Bimini Bay.” The set featured pretty much all of their album, Cape Dory, as well as a handful of new songs. Moore’s description of one of these, “Robin” (about saving a bird), was indicative of the couple’s sweet nature and the music they make. Each tune was a perfectly encapsulated, individually wrapped milk-chocolate confection. Moore admitted before one about a terrible day that “it still sounds happy,” which pretty much summed it all up. —A. Stein | @Neddyo