Thursday, May 6, 2010

Tennis System "The Future of Our History"

Washington DC's Tennis System have gained a certain amount of notoriety for their visually intense, high volume shows. While touring their way down to Austin for this year’s South by Southwest festival, two of their shows were shut down by local cops because of noise complaints. But stories of police intervention and hysterical sound engineers don’t serve as a solid foundation for establishing a band’s reputation. And while Tennis System concerts are wonderful experiments in sensory overload, it’s on record that the band really shines. Nowhere is this more evident than on the group’s debut full-length, “The Future of Our History.”

Unlike many musicians these days, Tennis System are not afraid of searching for “the sound.” A quick listen to the first few tracks reveals a group of young men who’ve spent countless hours coaxing the right tones and sounds out of their instruments. Yes, this is a very loud record. But there’s sonic dynamism that makes “The Future of Our History” stand out from other “nu-gaze” records. Guitarists Matty Taylor and Drake Eidson’s guitars shimmer, scream and shine across every song. And while the influence of a certain Anglo-Irish combo is certainly evident, Matty and Drake never let their love of Kevin Shields & co. oversaturate their sound. In fact, I’d say that Tennis System have a lot more in common with Ride or Pale Saints (and at times Swervedriver). But the most surprising aspect of this record is the strong presence of Tennis System’s rhythm section. Drummer Brad Fullilove and bassist Clinton Cool are never reduced to “drum machine & bass throb” status. Nor do they muck up the sound by being too flashy. In their playing you can hear the sounds of Led Zeppelin, Blue Cheer and and even go-go (Washington DC’s official sound, for those of you who aren’t in the urrrrrrrrrrrea)!

As I mentioned above, this band has no problem turning the volume up to 11. But at times, their love of noise can undermine the power of the songs. Interestingly, in the last few months, Tennis System have started to turned down a bit! They are still louder than most bands, but the decrease in volume has resulted in a much fuller and more dynamic sound. In venues with a decent PA and competent staff, they‘re a real pleasure to see. But in places where the sound guy is screaming at everyone or half asleep, things can get kind of hairy. Either way, you won't go home disappointed. Check them out, as they've got a very busy schedule planned for this summer.

*Saturday May 8 Comet Ping Pong with (the sounds of) Kaleidoscope Washington, DC
*Saturday May 15 9:00P ESOTERIC VIDEO SHOOT Washington, DC
*Saturday Jun 12 8:00P Velvet Lounge with Asteroid No. 4 Washington, DC

Recommended tracks: Beautiful Mistake, FS, Demonator, Here’s a Thought

"Here’s a Thought”, live at Union Pool, Brooklyn, NY 2010

"FS" live at Done&Done, 2010 in Queens, NY

“Esoteric” live at For the Love of DC, December 2009

Matty and the author performing Spacemen 3’s “Walking with Jesus”

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Detox Retox, Dum Dum Girls and Male Bonding at DC9

Over the last year or so, DC9 has become THE spot for catching up-and-coming bands before they make the leap to bigger venues. The club’s intimate layout, good sound and convenient location makes it one of the best places to see artists before they sell out the 930 Club or Black Cat. So when the opportunity to see Sub Pop rising stars Male Bonding and Dum Dum Girls came along, I figured “Eh, Why not.”

To conservative concertgoers, local openers Detox Retox could be seen as an odd fit on this bill. In my opinion, however, it would’ve been boring to see three bands that all looked and sounded the same. Detox play punk-pop that sounds like a mix between Silent Alarm-era Bloc Party meets the Police before everyone’s egos went out of control. Toss in a few flourishes of power-pop and the occasional gang vocal breakdowns and you get the kind of musical tension that guarantees that no two songs sound alike. Thursday night’s performance seemed very “on” for the lads, as they were all smiling and filled with energy. Singer Michael Parker was unusually charming, despite the fact that he’d been puking outside the club before load-in. The band is set to return to the studio in May,and I'm looking forward to hearing what they come out with next.

Dum Dum Girls came on stage around 9:50pm and begin their set with a haunting cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Play with Fire.” But from there, things began to go downhill. A quick scan of the stage revealed no less than two Holy Grail pedals being used to wash the vocals in a sea of reverb. This misguided attempt to recreate 60’s studio techniques actually rendered the vocals inaudible. Even more tragic was the girls' paint by numbers approach to being a gang of late 1950s bad girls. Matching Silvertone 1448 guitars? Check. Super short skirts and ripped tights? Check. Frosty ‘tude towards the crowd? Double check. Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with the wholesale appropriation of a certain look or being slightly detached on stage. But Dum Dum Girls lacked the songs and the chemistry to come off as really memorable. When they left the stage, I didn't feel anything. It was though I’d just attended some miserable excuse for a tribute show. Why this group is as feted as they are, I haven’t the faintest idea.

Male Bonding proved to be even more frustrating. Again, here was a blog buzz group wearing “cool” clothes and group playing nice looking gear (points for the vintage Fender Mustang Bass). But the overuse of reverb and lack of memorable melodies sabotaged any enjoyment that could’ve been drawn from Male Bonding’s performance. If you didn’t know anything about Sub Pop(or Rough Trade during the early to mid 80s), Male Bonding could maybe come off as a pretty cool band. But knowing what we know about the history of underground pop-music, Male Bonding (or Bondage, as the Dum Dums insisted on calling them) come off as painfully unoriginal. See here, lads, messthetics are bullshit if you don’t stand for anything. And there are few things more irritating than a trio of Englishmen with nothing to say. Shame on USCIS on approving these guys for P-Visas and letting them into the country!