Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tenniscoats Weekend: DCA, Dundee and Mono, Glasgow, 4th, 5th and 6th October

It can be hard to face the comedown after one Tenniscoats show, let alone three of them. They have so little to do with Monday morning, they’re a month of Sundays, they’re Debbie and Joey, they’re miles of smiles and butterfly wings. Last Friday we went to the new DCA opening (of Hiraki Sawa’s Lenticular) because the art at these things is sometimes good, and there’s free wine. I had a quick look at the web page first, and was downright shocked to see a link to page announcing a Tenniscoats set the following day. The link has gone now, probably because the event is in the past, but — could I have imagined it? Some photos on Flickr are all that remain to say I didn’t. We arrived for the opening on Friday, and found them in amongst the crowd outside the two galleries, where the wine table is, overlooking the bar. I wanted to say ‘welcome’ and somehow didn’t, like an idiot. There wasn’t much time, anyway: within a few minutes, Ueno started playing the Spanish guitar he seems always to have with him (it was a surprise, looking afterwards at old clips on YouTube, to see him with a saxophone in one), and Saya played her red and black melodica like a pied piper, as they led the audience into the smaller gallery for a brief set. They played just one song, in the light of the Unseen Park film which ‘was made with the assistance of nine Taiwanese children who imagined being transported by make believe vehicles’, as the info page says. Ueno had fun pretending to be chased by some of them.

Saturday arrived, and Andy sent a text 45 minutes before the 1PM set, saying ‘is it true?’, having only just spotted my Facebook effusions. We dashed off to collect him and drove back in to town with excessive politeness, under the circumstances (‘You don’t need to let them all in’, said S.), arriving only five minutes late. This time they were in the bigger gallery, and played in front of the two-screen Lineament, in which a 12" record unspooled surreally, and a single screen film which mirrored the northern lights along a vertical axis. The audience was seated in near darkness, and the two Tenniscoats wandered throughout the forty minute set, independently of each other, coming close to the audience at times, at others gravitating to the light of the films, or walking behind us. They played the space — a space which could have dwarfed a band with five times as many members. Saya dragged her autoharp along the floor for a gravelly sound, and somehow got percussive, shuffling sounds with just her feet (this was all unamplified). And she sang so beautifully, with such strength and fragility, such playfulness and melancholy. She had a go, too, at mixing the Lineament soundtrack with their own performance. It didn’t quite go, Ueno strummed louder and she turned it down to silence again. Apart from that moment, it was a very pure, calm set, bathed in the intermittent darkness of the gallery.

On Sunday in Mono... They started out pure and calm too, actually, but they couldn’t contain themselves for long. They may even have topped their amazing 2009 set at the same venue, which was already the best thing I had ever heard. Here’s what I wrote on Monday evening:

It’s going to be impossible, again, to get anywhere near describing Tenniscoats in front of a Glasgow crowd. Do they have off nights? Do they ever get annoyed? It’s hard to imagine them doing normal, everyday things, they always seem lit up with happiness, like nothing could bring them down. I hope nothing ever does. There’s the danger in writing about them that they come over as sickly sweet, or indiscriminately positive. But that’s not it, they don’t say that everything’s brilliant, they make everything brilliant, every single time. They fill you with love, put a spring in your step. It’s so simple, you wonder why no one else has thought of making music like this. Just an old Spanish guitar, plucked good naturedly by Ueno, mostly short melodic phrases and chord sequences, nothing flashy, he gets an intimacy out of this that electric guitars just can’t do (or that other musicians can’t do); and Saya, singing with an infectious joy... she sings to an audience in a way I’ve never seen anyone do. It’s a bit like the way my three-year-old niece fixes you once in a while with a piercing gaze, bold and inquisitive. She’s done it since before she could talk, and it always amazed me how well she managed to communicate without speech, just by saying ‘Boo!’ and looking. Saya can make a connection like that with a whole audience — in fact, she asked for all the lights in the venue to be turned on yesterday so she could see the audience’s faces. A giant game of peek-a-boo. It made me think of my favourite line from The Pastels’ latest album, ‘Don’t forget boldness / Never roll your eyes’. Saya’s performance is all boldness, it’s a demand for a return, but a demand which gives you the strength to make it.

They began with ‘Song for a Friend’ from Pastels / Tenniscoats’ Two Sunsets, which was beautiful to hear. Between that and the encore, an inevitable ‘Baibaba Bimba’, I don’t think there were any songs I knew (there were a few repeated from the previous day), so hopefully there’s a new record in the offing. One had English lyrics, ‘Raindrops / Raindrops / Raindrops falling on flowers’, two had guest stars — Duglas T. Stewart and Katrina Mitchell — and after Douglas’s turn Saya held him back for another song, which he clearly wasn’t expecting. She taught him the backing on the spot (John Hogarty joined him at the mic at this point, possibly for moral support), and then encouraged the audience to join in too. It went, in ‘ba-ba-ba’s, like this:

We continued for the duration of the song. Saya’s harmonies darted in and out, the first something like:

Others were beyond my rather basic transcribing ability. But you are to sing along with those two, please. The accompanying chords, strummed for an entire bar each, are C, G, Am, G, F, G, C, G. 150 BPM. Off you go. Tenniscoats, I’m sorry I didn’t say ‘welcome’, but you know I love you, you know we all do.


Photo above by Chris S., his complete set is here.
Lenticular is at Dundee Contemporary Arts until 5th January.

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