TVD Live: White Rabbits with Tennis at the Black Cat, 3/7

Some say things mature with age; you know, wisdom, sex, wine, your brain. In accordance with this rule, the bands White Rabbits and Tennis are no certainly no exception.

Both bands, still in the teen stages of their careers (we have much to look forward to) are on tour to promote 2012 releases that define their sound and capitalize on the momentum inspired by air-tight breakthrough (and in White Rabbits’ case, also sophomore) albums. In order for something to mature with age in the first place, it usually starts off with a solid foundation. White Rabbits’ and Tennis’ performances were both anchored by hits off of airtight previous releases, showcasing more of their recent work during their set.

As I pushed my way to the front of the Black Cat last Wednesday to snap some candid photos of the bands, I found myself next to a little boy, maybe 12 years old or so, apparently standing alone, so I struck up a conversation. I assumed he was here with one of the bands, but his father was floating about. I asked whom he was here to see, and his eyes sparkled as he told me both bands, but especially White Rabbits. He discovered them in his Dad’s iPad, which he assured me was packed with loads of music. “I went through a David Bowie phase,” he told me, and I laughed. Seems like this kid has started off with a foundation of good taste in music and a propensity for attending live shows. Well done, Mystery Dad!

After a pretty long period of set up (six people on stage take a lot of coordination) the kid and his little sister had made me some very interesting sketches in my notebook. The kid must have seen White Rabbits live before, or his drawings were premonitory because they illustrated the intensity with which White Rabbits commandeered the stage. There was nothing reserved about them, not even front man Stephen Patterson’s wavering falsetto. His self-conscious sensitivity was a defiant luminary of its own volition.

Alternating between instruments, including two drum kits, with a guitarist turning more knobs on pedals than I could count, White Rabbits’ live bravado was way more overpowering than I’d ever expected, as exemplified by their hit “Percussion Gun.” I now deeply regret not catching them on their It’s Frightening tour. Right at the beginning of the show, I asked myself why Tennis (whom I’ve reviewed before and love) were not headlining. I now think I was just sick and fuzzy-brained to ever think such a thing after a show with such bombast. Who knew Patterson seated at an organ would be as energetic as him front and center with cocked hips, singing his heart out, joined by Gregory Roberts harmonizing while he minds his guitar.

Seeing Tennis for the second time, I expected a similar performance by husband-and-wife duo Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley, joined by touring drummer hunky James Barone. All three of them were in tow and were joined by an extra keyboard player. Much like their new record Young & Old, the live performance was polished and confident. Moore’s vocals have the teen pop emotional heights of Tiffany or Debbie Gibson, but there is an affinity to ’60s girl groups in the lyrics and song structures that make the album classic. I’ll admit I was transfixed by the sexy drummer, who played each song with obvious pride.

After a few new songs, they tossed in the familiar “Pigeon” followed by “Marathon.” The crowd cheered, and smiles broke out across every band member’s face. That moment gave me chills because most bands might be bored with playing their “hit” song, but you can tell Tennis are in love with each and every one of theirs and love pleasing their audience.

Tennis have stepped off the boat and left their first album Cape Dury at the docks. Tennis’ latest, Young & Old, is making waves of its own. Some might attribute this to the face that The Black Keys’ drummer Patrick Carney produced it.

Similarly, with the release of a third album, Milk Famous, White Rabbits have embraced their long-time Spoon association. Spoon frontman Britt Daniel produced It’s Frightening, and Mike McCarthy, producer of five Spoon albums, produced Milk Famous. White Rabbits both visited their acclaimed debut album Fort Nightly with “Kid On My Shoulders” and showcased new material, such as the lead track “Heavy Metal” from Milk Famous. For both White Rabbits and Tennis, the solid foundation of albums It’s Frightening and Cape Drury, respectively, highlight the ways in which each band have evolved.

Photos by Jenn Bress

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