Like many before you, you’re a buzz band from Brooklyn. Your first EP received rave reviews. You’ve played all the publicity-generating festivals. You’ve been co-signed by the hippest blogs and relevant music outlets. You have an active and clever social media presence. Your songs have even been featured on mainstream channels like MSNBC and E! (unsolicited, of course). And now you’re on the first night of your national tour in support of your critically-acclaimed debut album. After months, if not years of boosting your brand, the time has come for those outside your borough to decide: Are you for real? Or are you the latest iteration of hype gone wild?
I’m not going to tell you that Tanlines are the-next-big-thing. They might bubble up and fade out like, say, Delorean or Beach Fossils or Fang Island or Tame Impala or Male Bonding or Suckers or any of the dozens acts in recent memory. (Apologies in advance to the commentariat—I like all these groups but they won’t be selling out the Black Cat any time soon). Two mid-30s white guys from Brooklyn who mix Afro-pop and Tropicália? Synthesized steel drums? Recycling the best song from your EP onto your LP? Please understand my skepticism about your longevity. This pointless worrying aside, what matters now is if Tanlines can make the songs from their recently-released Mixed Emotions translate live.
Opening was Rewards, a duo featuring Aaron Pfenning, formerly of Chairlift. If Tanlines can be described with clichéd phrases like “warm,” “summery,” and (ugh) “Vitamin-D drenched,” Rewards is the opposite: dark, electronic brooding. Featuring Pfenning’s singing over a plinking drum-machine beat and his guitarist’s strumming, this wouldn’t be out of place on an early M83 album or perhaps even Mezzanine-era Massive Attack. Given that they sounded quite different live from their Soundcloud, I have no clue what Rewards has in store for us in the near future. Who knows? Maybe one day Tanlines could be opening for them.
But the sold-out crowd packed themselves into the cramped DC9 to see Tanlines, not Rewards. Consisting of singer/guitarist Eric Emm and multi-instrumentalist (and Maryland native) Jesse Cohen, the group opened with “Rain Delay”, with Emm chanting, “It’s just a dream, it’s just a dream / Hard to believe, it’s just a dream.” The single “Brothers” pulsated with vibrant dance-ready rhythm, which finally got the meek crowd moving as Emm sang, “I’m just the same as I ever been / But I’m the only one who doesn’t notice it.”
“All Of Me” was standout, featuring Emm’s guitarwork over Cohen’s comfortable drumming on toms and congas between funneling Balearic soundcrafts. The group even played the new song “Born Slippy”, for what Cohen claims is the very first time. (And no, it sounds nothing like the Underworld rave classic). The propulsive, set-closing “Real Life” would be the perfect song to dance to as the sun set on some crazy hedonistic beach club in Ibiza. It’s unfortunate that we were all piled into the upstairs room of a neighborhood bar. I concur with the Post’s review. Tanlines is made for open-aired festivals, not dingy nightclubs.
Even though he claimed otherwise in our interview, Cohen responded to a question from an audience member that he was a bit nervous about the tour. I don’t know why. After some reluctance, both the crowd and the band got into a groove. Tanlines sounded excellent, like many other buzz bands before them and likely many other bands yet-to-come. I suppose the issue of can they last? is irrelevant. The internet giveth hype and it can taketh away. Forget tomorrow, there’s only right fucking now.
The opening band, Black Hills: