A very sold-out show at the Black Cat Wednesday night offered two remarkably different flavors. I went into it with expectations that one band would be mediocre and the other band would be pretty good, but my expectations were reversed!
First, Denver-based pop band Tennis charmed the audience with its sweet sunny pop songs, evoking images of a journey through Americana. The sound of Tennis, made up at its core by husband and wife Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley, completely recalls earlier times of simple lovesongs albeit set to Moore’s pleasing synths and Riley’s surf guitar.
I knew them as a band that tours a lot but I had low expectations. Boy, did they surprise me. The very look of the duo, even augmented by their band, evoked happy, retro feelings. Moore has a look about her straight out of an 80s high school yearbook and she sings with a lovely sophisti-pop air. To me, her voice contained elements of Kristy MacColl and Tracey Thorn, although she remained so chirpy that she would be completely at home on a twee pop mixtape with Heavenly.
Meanwhile, Riley presents such an image of fresh earnestness and classic surfer looks that he could easily have been playing alongside the Beach Boys in the mid-1960s. They are a classically good-looking couple and you instantly like them for it.
The band looks and sounds entirely wholesome but their music is undeniably catchy. Everyone at the Cat was compelled to dance to summery pop tunes from their new album, Young and Old, with songs like “Origins” and its singalong “Oh whoa oh” chorus. They even performed a lovely song called “Baltimore,” inspired by a seven-month sailing adventure they undertook along the eastern seaboard before recording their first album, Cape Dory. All in all, they were really quite pleasant.
By contrast, I had high expectations of White Rabbits but those expectations were dashed. Before seeing them, I read of a band that sounded like Madness and The Specials. They were supposed to be fun and energetic — perhaps evoking post-punk and ska? They were nothing like the band I read about. I found them instead to be a complicated progressive rock band. They sounded nothing like the upbeat fun offered by ska or new wave.
White Rabbits, out of Brooklyn, NY, presented the audience with a six-piece band and a heavy brand of rock. They have a big, layered sound that occasionally manages to sound like a sedate, progressive mix of Muse meets The Strokes when it really works (although both of those bands are much leaner than White Rabbits.)
At their best, White Rabbits bring a glimmering, funky guitar sound that would make a perfect soundtrack to cruising through a crowded city at night, as with their song “Heavy Metal” from their freshly released album, Milk Famous. At their worst, they generate a wholly hazy yet loud sound that threatens to give way to a jam band aesthetic, as with “I Had It Coming,” another song off the new album.
Listening to Milk Famous, as I write this, I actually cannot help but place White Rabbits alongside the Dandy Warhols, who occasionally have created a similar sort of atmosphere while never really breaking out of the pack for me — despite some intriguing songwriting and catchy tunes here and there. And I cannot help but feel like they didn’t really win over the audience at the Black Cat, nearly half of whom had left by the end of their set.
I started out by saying the night presented two different flavors, but to be fair, there was a third. Opening act Daughter actually bought yet another sound entirely to the whole concert, performing mournful, slow guitar riffs under the pleasing voice of singer Elena Tonra. I cannot recall having seen three more different bands on one bill in recent memory — nor having my expectations turned upside down so abruptly.