! = recommended
* = all-ages
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Locals Jason Anderson and The Best opened the night at Boston's Middle East Downstairs. Jason has an unstoppable stage presence and surged through his set of lightweight call-and-response songs to very enthusiastic audience reaction. Omaha's Capgun coup followed with a sort of baffling sound that I didn't really get and can't really describe. Finally, Tilly emerged...
Tilly and the Wall has always been the cutest, most charming kid on the block thanks to gang-delivered, shaky vocals, catchy sing-a-long songs, and a rhythm section primarily consisting of the tapping toes of Jamie Pressnall (nee Williams — prior to her 2006 marriage to bandmate Derek Pressnall).
After emerging from the Omaha DIY scene in 2001, the band built a parade of fans while supporting Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley, Of Montreal, and Pedro the Lion on the road. Now, after a couple of years out on their own, they are proving that they are absolutely headliners by selling out virtually all of their shows.
Even with capacity crowds, cute kids sometimes have to work twice as hard to be cute grown-ups, and Tilly's coming-of-age has not been without some growing pains. In addition to the usual suspects: Jamie Pressnall (tap dancer), Derek Pressnall (vocals, guitar), Neely Jenkins (vocals, bass), Nick White (keyboards), and Kianna Alarid (vocals, bass), the band has added two musicians, rumored to be: Mason Brown (primarily electric guitarist) and Craig DeMayo (electronic drums).
If your attention span is long enough, you may conclude that this additional instrumentation is in direct violation of item 3 on the earlier expressed "why we love Tilly" list. Whenever anyone mentions Tilly and the Wall, the first descriptive clause is invariably: the band with the tap dancer. The drums consistently drowned out the intricacies of the tap rhythms, making the songs feel duller and ploddier than on past tours. Perhaps the blame for this also rests on poor fader placement. The addition of electric guitar into the mix contributed little to the songs, apart from clouding up their typical beautiful, minimalist approach to arrangement. Again, it's difficult to determine whether this resulted from the naturally cave-like venue, less than perfect mixing, or just a poor aesthetic decision by the band. Overall, a number of sonic decisions were highly questionable. In fact, the vocals for all three singers were excessively reverberant for the majority of the show, making lyrics mostly incomprehensible.
Despite the dodgy sound situation, the band, whose wardrobe must have gotten mixed up with costumes from '60s musical Hair at the last train stop, plowed through their catalog with such genuine joy and sincerity, that just about anything was forgivable. How else can one justify singing along to the inane lyrics of the overwhelmingly '80s-dance infused, recently released single "Beat Control"?
In addition to presenting us "Beat Control," which Kianna absolutely rocked, Tilly chose to offer a taste of their third full-length recording (due out later this year), while wisely cranking out a set that was almost unfairly loaded with their best sing-a-longs from their first two releases. Although it can be difficult to understand how the unreleased songs will rest in their recorded state, none of the new tracks quite stood up to the band's best output in this setting. Still, there was plenty of their best output to keep the crowd dancing, singing along, and having a great time. Every member of the band puts something honest and energetic into their live performance and that is really what keeps the whole thing together.
The sweetest and "Tilliest" moment of the whole set came when the band returned for a 4-song encore expressing tremendous gratitude and joy for the audience's response to the evening's performance. The highlight of the encore was a group huddle to cram and relearn "I Always Knew" in response to a fan's sign requesting the song. The band couldn't quite make it through the song, but they did their best and they weren't ashamed to make a mistake.
No doubt, Tilly is a great band with a great attitude and great songs and seeing them live is a lot of fun. They may not be able to remember how to play all of their older songs, hit all of the right notes, or write all hit songs, but they always have a great time and always do their best and their best is good enough for me.
The forthcoming songs are best guesses based on lyrics and prior setlists:
1. Chandelier Lake (Forthcoming album) - Daytrotter Sessions MP3
2. Pot Kettle Black (Forthcoming album)
3. Fell Down the Stairs (Wild Like Children)
4. The Freest Man (Bottoms of Barrels)
5. Urgency (Bottoms of Barrels)
6. Dust Me Off (Forthcoming album)
7. Nights of the Living Dead (Wild Like Children)
8. Tall Tall Grass (Forthcoming album)
9. Bad Education (Bottoms of Barrels)
10. Beat Control (Beat Control Single)
11. Blood Flowers (Forthcoming album)
12. Sing Songs Along (Bottoms of Barrels)
1. Lost Girls (Bottoms of Barrels)
2. I Always Knew (Wild Like Children)
3. Reckless (Wild Like Children)
4. Rainbows in the Dark (Bottoms of Barrels)
Beat Control Live
Beat Control Video