Tennis with Modern Blonde
Soup Kitchen, Manchester
Friday May 25, 2012
Manchester, it's been a long time - so long, in fact, that a myriad of new venues have sprung up within the city centre. Soup Kitchen's upstairs is a popular Motel editorial haunt - particularly given the high quality of its titular soups, sandwiches and even vegetarian scotch eggs - but believe it or not, this is the first time I've set foot within its basement. It's a bit dark and minimalist, like all good basements, and the versatile space caters for a surprisingly large number of people without feeling sweaty or claustrophobic.
Openers Modern Blonde require a little patience from listeners. On the surface, you'd expect them to be divisive, either falling in love with them or hating them, but making my mind up about them isn't as simple as that. At first, they provoke a confused reaction, particularly with the batshit baritone-led beats of 'Open Your Heart To The Lord' and the truly terrifying 'If Tomorrow Never Sees Us/Be With Me (Take A Dip In The Sea)' early on (one of the band actually calls for more reverb before the latter).
However, as their set progresses they show that they are capable of slightly more accessible fare. At times, the breadth of the band's ambition on record isn't realised live, but the passage of time should hopefully put pay to that. The clear highlights are 'It's Your First Day', with a chorus and ascending electronic refrain that should do your head in but instead become utterly mesmeric, and the nutty 'In America' (the minor key hook gives your reviewer The Fear).
Do Tennis land an ace, though? Why, of course (Sorry, had to get that obvious one out of my system first). Barely visible over a sea of punters - even perched on the benches built into the walls at the back of the room, as I am - they offer up an hour's worth of their trademark reverb-drenched, hazy pop - perfectly timed as Manchester basks in a rare spot of sunshine. Alaina Moore's compelling vocals could do with being a bit louder at times, and it's actually on the self-proclaimed "slow jams" (no, not this kind of slow jam) such as 'My Better Self' and the divine 'Origins' where her voice has the greatest impact.
Tennis serve up a mix of tracks from both Cape Dory and Young & Old for an initially reserved crowd - it's about five songs into the set when people really start to go for it at the front. The first album's title track, with a tempo shift smoother than a snake's underbelly, is sublime. 'Petition' and 'Pigeon' also get warm receptions.
However, the finest moments are 'Marathon's optimistic, major-key surf-pop stylings, the rambunctious 'It All Feels the Same' - as Moore slides down vocal scales oh-so-seductively - and the joyous racket of 'Travelling', which sounds a little like Those Dancing Days being played at the wrong speed (perhaps it's the syncopated rhythms and flourishes of organ). Summer has officially begun, and it's time to fall in love with a band who manage to ooze studied cool, yet project a warmth that makes them truly appealing.
words: Kate Goodacre
This show was promoted by Now Wave