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Live Review and Photos: Tennis and Lord Huron, February 4, 2011, Echo – Los Angeles, CA

You always hear the statement “divisive bands” and rarely think about what that phrase actually means. Like, isn’t any artist or group going to be divisive, as there are simply no universally adored figures, well, anywhere? But the connotation of “divisive bands” is that the two opposing viewpoints on the quality of the act are vehemently opposed, with both sides being vocal and adamant. Using this as the watermark to judge what is and what isn’t divisive, Tennis surely are not divisive in any sense of the term.

In fact, if you were going to peg Tennis into any corner, it would be “hard-not-to-like.” “Cute” is a word that will be thrown around a lot with them, “meh” is a term many of my more masculine male brothers would also go with. But with the polarity hovering between doe-eyed adoration and ambivalence, Tennis doesn’t really have much work to do on stage. The unfortunate thing is that they would have to incorporate pyrotechnics or strippers into their set to persuade some dudes to check this out without their girlfriends, but if given a chance, as they were by a sold-out Echo crowd on Friday night, they can provide a pleasing evening of nice tunes regardless of what you have between your legs.

Of course, Tennis are a better band on record than in concert. At least, so far. I mean, if you literally heard Cape Dory and were like “I’ve got to check out that band,” well, then you are living on a different planet than I am. What Tennis did provide was pleasantness, something that permeates from their retro-beachy sound. Alaina Moore is still getting her bearings as a front-woman and seemed much more comfortable and genuine when she dueted with opener Airwaves (who were pretty damn enjoyable for a band I’ve never heard of). As can be seen by the written-out delay instructions on her setlist, Moore’s “delays” felt like that, with her banter feeling forced and her personality carefully hidden under the surface.

On the other hand husband/guitarist Patrick Riley was all energy, which also caught me off guard in the most awesome of ways. Until you see Riley rock out for the entire set, you don’t realize what a guitar-centric album Cape Dory is. But “Take Me Somewhere” is driven by its guitar lead and rocking chorus. “Cape Dory” may be known for the infectious melodies, but the guitar changes are what makes the song rise above nostalgic pop flare and, rather, make its way into the territory of the best pop of this young year.

The job of following Lord Huron (more on them in a minute) could have completely freaked-out less professional bands, but Tennis more than held their own. Though the comfort and warmth are areas in need of improvement, there is little doubt that these will come with time and experience. After all, they are married. Legally binding contracts make the probability of Tennis going anywhere highly unlikely.

Though Tennis may have been the destination band, local wonders Lord Huron stole the show. I imagine this is something that happens often to the stages that Lord Huron graces. Sounding like a combination of Abe Vigoda (older Abe Vigoda) and Local Natives, the tunes are built on tropical, bouncy rhythms and solid-as-a-rock anthemic melodies. There may have been one too many slow songs in the set, but it was clear that a. the band has a tremendous amount of fun on stage, b. they are immensely comfortable with each other, and c. they have a bright future ahead.

The percussion is punctuated with all kinds of weird shit (some kind of metal vest, drumming with maracas), additional percussion is played by the singer, the bassist has this antenna-thing that makes cool noises when he waves his hand near it. The result is a sound that is far larger than the five people on stage. So yeah, write down the name Lord Huron and get excited when they announce their full-length debut.

Tennis Setlist:

Cape Dory
Take Me Somewhere
Long Boat Pass
When You Walk
New Year
Bimini Bay
South Carolina
Hard Times

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