In a lot of ways, Friday night’s indie-packed bill at Velvet Jones offered the best of all worlds. Minus a lackluster start from evening opener Devon Williams, the affair was jam-packed with head-bopping, toe-tapping pop gems. Better still, both supporting act Miniature Tigers and headliner Tennis did a solid job of bridging a set’s worth of older jams with new, as-yet-unreleased material. Both outfits are in the final stages of completing new records, and as such, both sets offered a weighted mix of old-versus-new sounds.
For Tigers, the older material incited a full-blown dance party, thanks to synth-driven offerings like “Gold Skull” and “Mansion of Misery,” which had fans emphatically scream-singing along. Meanwhile, newer numbers like “Boomerang” reminded most obviously of a Chutes Too Narrow–era Shins but were delivered with enough gusto and gut to make the comparison feel less blatant rip-off and more heartfelt homage. In both forms, Miniature Tigers came out on top, but the dichotomy between the old sounds and new felt disjointed at points, which ultimately proved to be the band’s biggest roadblock.
As for Tennis, the combination was slightly more cohesive. The duo-cum-trio’s debut, Cape Dory, is a sparkling and saccharine offering, loaded with Crystals-esque, ’60s-inspired pop. And performed live, the songs most definitely lived up to their recorded counterparts. As the band’s picturesque and pint-sized lead singer, Alaina Moore is both a sight to behold — her impressive mane of curly blonde hair seemed to have a stage presence of its own — and a vocal force. Delivered effects-free, her ethereal voice perfectly mirrored Dory‘s sunny, doo-wop–inspired tunes about sailing. Even the especially high-note–filled numbers, like “South Carolina” and “Baltimore,” went off without a hitch. Instrumentally, the older tracks worked well enough, too; the surf guitar waltz of “Pigeon” made for one of the night’s highlights, as well as a sweet excuse for folks to turn Velvet into a makeshift prom dance floor, if only for a few moments.
Still, where these three shined brightest was among their newer material. Produced, and no doubt influenced by Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney, the soon-to-come Tennis album is already receiving plenty of blogosphere buzz. Luckily, the cuts we got on Friday more than lived up to the hype. With the help of a fourth member, Moore and hubby/guitarist Patrick Riley were able to explore a wealth of new tones; the drums punched louder, the guitar tones got grittier, and the keyboards moved from gentle and coloring to a driving force. New track “Origins” even introduced a thick, bassy counterpoint to Moore’s lilting lyrical waxing.
Blessed with a recognizably quirky vocal tone, Moore alone was able to hold the whole thing together, seamlessly bridging the gap between old and new. For a band whose distinctly breezy debut could have easily made them a one-note wonder, the exploration was not only welcome; it was downright enrapturing.