Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Show Review: Tilly and the Wall @ the Black Cat (7-26-08)

(Taken even with a flash yet still dark, grrr...some brighter shots can be found here.)

What sort of musical concoction do you get when you cross the sounds of the Shangri-Las and the B52s, mixed with the visual flair of the Flaming Lips and well, Riverdance? Why a peppy little 5-headed hydra out of Omaha, NE called Tilly and the Wall who played to a sold out crowd on Saturday at the Black Cat.

I'm not a huge fan of Conor Oberst or Bright Eyes (I'm sorry, I've tried to give him a chance but he's just so...whiny), so I wasn't sure how much I'd like Tilly and the Wall. (The connection here is that two of Tilly's members used to be in a band with Oberst prior to Bright Eyes, and Tilly records on Oberst's label, Team Love). Now your feelings on him may differ from mine, but I'm happy to report Tilly’s sound is 180 degrees different. With its peppy beats and sunshiny guitar licks and vocals, it’s the sound of a 60s girl group with 80s music sensibilities (and two male members; no offense guys). Co-vocalists Neely Jo Jenkins and Kianna Marie Alarid are a wonderfully harmonious duo whose voices completely complement each other, but their songs are not the same-old same-old power-pop brews. Theirs is a power-pop milkshake that comes in different flavors: early 80s sugar-pop ("Beat Control"), an indie country church song (imagine Mother Maybelle Carter sporting a silver tank dress from Edie Sedgwick’s closet for "The Ice Storm, Big Gusts and You"), some harder tracks with dirty guitar hooks ("Pot Kettle Black"), flamenco-influences ("Bad Education"), and music suited for a modern spaghetti western desiring indie cred ("Cacophony").

And if all that wasn’t enough for you to separate them from the fray, this might: their primary percussionist isn’t a regular ol’ drummer who keeps their beat, it’s one of this hydra’s 5 heads, a kick-ass tap dancer named Jamie Lynn Pressnall. (There was a touring drummer but he was used only on certain songs, probably to give her a bit of a breather given the rapid-fire sequence in which they played.) With more talent than the entire Riverdance ensemble combined (sorry Michael Flatley...
oh, and Pat Benatar called...she wants her headband back...), and 8 times the coolness (I mean, she was sporting a Black Lips band T-shirt), Presnall was a non-stop whirlwind of dancing, singing, crowd amping, and maraca playing in spandex throughout most of the 15 song set. Tilly incorporates Pressnall’s talents really well in their songs too, a great example being the last song before the encore (which was either "Lost Girls" or "Sing Songs Along" depending on who you ask). She came out and danced only the last chorus of the song, which really added something special to the moment. If you only need one reason to go see Tilly, go to see Pressnall perform, she is incredible. To quote someone I knew who’d also gone to the show, "I'm wondering if it's possible to have been in the audience and not to have fallen in love with the tap dancer."

Based on what I saw Saturday, I’d say everyone did. And with Tilly as a whole. In fact, the band played "Fell Down the Stairs" in the encore because guitarist Derek Scott Pressnall saw a girl in front of the stage with its lyrics tattooed on her body. But the love was never more obvious than when they did "Nights of the Living Dead" because the screaming was deafening and the pogoing, both on stage and off, was almost a choreographed dance sequence, it was so unified. Though Tilly’s latest effort "O" makes their third full length release, the band still seemed surprised and in awe of the love coming at them from the crowd. As my counterpart said, "You could power a city for a week from the wattage of the smiles onstage."

Some bands that you go to see live, you go in order to witness their playing abilities, or their possible stage antics/meltdowns, or because they hold a hallowed place in rock music’s pantheon. Some are like watching paint dry. But Tilly and the Wall live is like going to a birthday party, complete with confetti, balloons, entertainment, and dancing, and music that is perfectly suited for being played live. All that was missing Saturday was the cake. Mmm..cake.

Falling Without Knowing-Tilly and the Wall
Nights of the Living Dead-Tilly and the Wall

(Tilly and the Wall is on tour this summer and will be performing at the Monolith Festival in September.)

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