Tennis – Brooklyn Steel – January 23, 2018
A few years ago, I saw the newish band Tennis play the Bowery Ballroom. The material was there and the show was good, but it wasn’t, in my opinion, necessarily “They’re going somewhere!” good. But fast-forward to last night’s sold-out show at Brooklyn Steel, featuring a confident band in complete control of their four-LP catalog and the sizable room, and I couldn’t have been more wrong about that. They took the stage to the theme to the original Star Trek playing over the PA, an introduction that seemed a little incongruous at first. As the set unfolded, Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley leading the band with their retro-futuristic sound—what one might have imagined pop music would sound like in the future 30 years ago, maybe the “to boldly go …” part made sense … a little.
Every live show has its own arc, and for Tennis last night it mirrored their own career arc: each song seemingly a little better than the previous. Leaning heavily on material from last year’s Yours Conditionally, the band was immediately in a pulse of guitar-synth groove, the room awash in jelly-bean lights. The theme of the night was Moore’s near-death brush with the flu, the performance filled with anecdotes and one-liners about her steroid treatment making her extra sexy and, rather hilariously, passing out in a Whole Foods. While Moore’s voice did strain at moments, the additional crackle in the vocals was a welcome one. By mid-set, things were in full swing, the giggling energy of Riley’s guitar finding intricate melodies to explore and the bass a thick molasses of funk.
The stage bathed in blue beams, Moore’s voice on “Timothy” seemed to multiply magically, whether by backing tracks or perhaps real magic. “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar” dedicated, with a slight swipe at Bono, to the “feminization of rock and roll,” was a late-set highlight, a bitchin’ funk, Tennis showing their full power and exactly why they sold out their self-professed “biggest show of our lives.” The three-song encore ended with Moore sitting at the stage’s lip, accompanied only by a quiet guitar from her husband, singing “Bad Girls,” savoring the moment as she sang, “If it were physical it would show, if it were spiritual I would know.” —A. Stein | @Neddyo