The Lexington, London
Words and Photo: Alex Penge
Meet Tennis, Denver’s husband and wife 60’s pop idolisers, apparently a tongue-in-cheek dig by Alaina Moore (vocals, keyboard) of her husband Patrick Riley’s (guitarist) interest in the sport at college. On the back of widespread internet acclaim for their web smash ‘Marathon’, the harmonic pop group play their first ever UK gig at The Lexington minus the lairy headbands and skimpy shorts…
Moore graces the stage joined by Riley at her side. The crowd is introduced to an instrumental of wistful guitar combined with mellow notes from the synthesiser. The results are an atmospheric pop haze. ‘Seafarer’ follows on from the eruptive opening with Moore’s youthful cries of summer time teenage affection. ‘Cape Dory’ is the first song to bring a sense of Supremes-like harmony as Moore beautifully proclaims that ‘we can listen to the sounds of the ocean’. The 60s girl group pastiche is not exhaustedly delivered however, with Riley once again providing the modern guitar twangs necessary for reaffirming the pastiche as just nostalgia.
This is Tennis’ first show outside the U.S, considering the universal magnitude of their next song ‘Marathon’ this show is surely not just a transatlantic ta-ta. A fulsome organ fills the room while Moore references the couple’s sailboat journeys of the past, through melancholic rhymes about ‘Coconut Grove’ cove life. Complemented with energetic cymbals the live crowd is provided with a thunderous chorus. ‘Thanks Radman’ bellows Moore at the end of the song, in reply to an overzealous crowd member.
The next song and first cover of the night is Jackie De Shannon’s ‘When You Walk in the Room’. Arguably the most energetic and empowering song of the evening, Riley’s calm yet resonant power-pop guitar builds towards DeShannon’s original emotional frustration. The love songs do not end here, as ‘Pigeon’ unwinds the crowd with flashbacks of frilly senior prom shirts and awkward slow dances. (See: The slow prom dance scene from Napoleon Dynamite. There’s awkward and then there’s THAT!)
It is clear that some of Tennis’ heroes are pre-rock icons, one of which being Brenda Lee. Brenda Lee’s ‘Is It True’ clarifies this view with passionate vocals and jangly strings. There’s hope for the future with potential mini-festival anthem ‘South Carolina’, Florence-esque echoed screams suggest that the band could be well suited to big tents on the festival circuit.
Reproduction of past records and especially forgotten genres can often be valuable, but for just how long? The one criticism is the emotional significance of their music. As it is predominantly based on influences of the past, there is a tendency to want something a little dissimilar, ultimately questioning the reminiscences being presented.
There’s undoubted beauty and charm but you just wonder how the husband and wife duo can progress in the future with a sound that is so precisely formulated. Importantly however Tennis are far from mediocre and are an interesting live collective. They are not quite ready for Wimbledon as of yet but are well on their way.