There’s a certain amount of cuddly cuteness to be expected when seeing a husband-wife indie-pop band. For example, you know some people come to the show just to hold hands, some come to slow-dance, some come to suck face, and some just come to swoon. Well, there was a lot of swooning at the Mercury Lounge when Denver-based buzzmeisters Tennis took the stage— intense, practically audible swooning. The precious doo-wop inspired pair hasn’t released a full-length album yet— their stellar debut album Cape Dory will be released on Fat Possum in January— but that hasn’t stopped them from selling out venues like the Mercury Lounge and picking up plum spots as the openers for the similarly nostalgia-tinged heavy-hitters the Walkmen. Their charming narrative (couple sails around America in tiny boat and writes songs about it) has proved irresistible to blogs, magazines, and people who read blogs and magazines. Besides the aroma of puppy-on-puppy love, there was also a bit of tension in the air, mostly of the “Is this just an internet band?” variety; these questions were raised by the lonely and the bearded, but it’s a question as old as the internet itself: Can this band make the jump from MySpace to an actual space?
Before we found out, the audience was subjected to a few different versions of indie-quirk. First, the Brooklyn-based, wonky-in-name-only Miracles Of Modern Science took the stage with their romp-ready chamber pop. Working with a double-bass, a cello, an electric violin, a drummer, and a heavily distorted mandolin (ugh, not sure how I feel about that), these guys know how to manipulate the loud/soft dynamic shifts necessary to actually sound like a rock band with these instruments; the drummer’s spry, spiky rhythms also go a long way. However, you can almost feel them pushing against the limits of their orchestral sound. When someone in the crowd yells, “Yeah, MOMS,” the breathy Andrew Bird-ish singer Evan Younger bristles at the unfortunate acronym. These dudes are talented enough to do away with their more twee trappings (like a cringe-worthy line about a petting zoo).
The D.C./New Jersey outfit Family Portrait was up next. These Underwater Peoples-approved slackers have undergone some sound and line-up changes recently and their short set showed some growing pains. Trading in a drummer for dense, woozy backing tracks, the group played trembling electro-pop that wouldn’t sound out of place at a narcoleptic ’80s prom, which might be the aesthetic they’re going for. The singer has an effective robot Elvis Costello crooning with robot Phil Collins vocal style, but the songs surrounding his warped warbles were indistinctive and glitch-heavy. “We haven’t played these songs before,” the singer said. Understandable, but not the greatest excuse.
At 11pm sharp Tennis took the stage, both Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore (joined by a drummer) decked out in crisp outfits that were less sailing-ready as they were yacht-club ready. Like their fellow pop-pranksters Vampire Weekend, there’s something ironic about their class-baiting tendencies and their tightly manicured sound. Of course, no one there wanted to think about the social implications of a pretty innocuous indie band, they came for the swooning. And, oh, they got it. Moore is an impish woman with frizzed-out blonde hair who gives off a real Lea Thompson in Back To The Future vibe; when she wasn’t vamping it up on slow-burners like the middle-school dance breather “Pigeons” or chirping away during the brisk stand-out “Marathon,” she spent a lot of time stealing glances at the unflappable Riley. With his tightly cropped cherry-blond hair and his tattoos peeking out from underneath his clean white golf-shirt as he tore into his creaky Walkmen-esque guitar tones, Riley is her perfect match. They played a Brenda Lee cover that Moore described as “so obscure” (it was “Is It True,” shoutout to Google for the assist). They played a brassy new track called “Water Birds” (no, they haven’t ditched the nautical themes yet). They traded looks. They whispered. The audience provided the swooning.