[10 August 2009]
As Tall As Lions managed to sell out Bowery Ballroom, and although the band told the audience they couldn’t believe it, the roaring crowd consistently gave the impression that they were watching U2 at Giants stadium.
Accompanied on a few songs by a chorus of singers clad in white who contributed understated vocal harmonies, the band’s set offered a varied mix of songs, some of which hinged on lead singer Dan Nigro’s acrobatic vocals while others embodied a free-wheeling jam-bandesque carnival on stage. When the multi-member hippie choral faction—nicknamed “the hotties”—was on stage, the vibe was one of a disorganized musical festival, albeit a casual and welcoming one.
Nigro explained, “We’re not hot, so we put hot people on stage with us.” The joke might have been funny if the acoustics had been different, but the sound contributed by “the hotties” was in fact so subtle that they really did seem to be there for mere show. The white outfits they wore, not to mention their bare feet and the fact that some of the members had beards, led some members of the crowd to scream, “We love sexy Jesus.” The choral group also seemed amused by their own presence on stage.
Musically, for the most part, As Tall As Lions embodies the necessary components of a modern indie band. Most of their lyrics were startlingly simple, the repetition of lines like “gone gone gone” and other disgruntled, yet earnest teenage-esque choruses like “wake me up when it’s all over.” It isn’t surprising given the simplicity of the music that the crowd was able to sing along without fail throughout the show. On the other hand, the audience’s wild enthusiasm also bears testament to the band’s ability to garner a devoted fan base. Not only did almost the entire crowd know every single word to every song, they also readily clapped along with many of them.
The band did announce a segment where they played a few new songs, some of which featured a jazzy sounding piano that marked a more eclectic approach to their songwriting. The new songs were slinkier and perhaps less crowd-friendly—at the very least they lacked some of the aesthetic staples that define the alternative pop sound of their many earlier songs. But what was most interesting about As Tall As Lions was that, even with all the usual musical ingredients, they still brought a different tone, sound, and essence to the songs.
Although the band demonstrate musical versatility and dexterity, they also draw attention to themselves in a way that is visually intense. At times, Julio Tavarez’s frenetic, karate-like dance moves seemed more of a focus than his bass playing. He also seemed very off in his own world; at times I wasn’t sure if his dancing matched the music.
But the band, overall, makes its mark by not following the rules. The music is largely basic, but its refusal to conform to genre is what gives it its individuality. The most transparently experimental move they tried was singing through a megaphone, and although the warped sound was interesting, it felt like a bit of a cheap trick.
Notably, drummer Cliff Sarcona supplied a beat that was able to both befriend the crowd and sustain the band. Drummers have the advantage of often getting to exist in their own world, and Sarcona played from a glass encasement off-center, stage left. He was able to be removed from some of the adolescent intensity of the three front men, as were the trumpet and synth players. Guitarist Saen Fitzgerald also played a more subdued role from his post stage right. Of the three front men, he seemed the most focused on his music.
All in all, the band seemed mostly there to have fun and delight the crowd. Each member contributed a unique piece to that effort, and from appearances, they seemed to succeed in both endeavors.