It is becoming too rare a feat to find tours with openers and are worthy of your attention. The one-two punch of this spring's As Tall As Lions tour is such a line-up.
Cincinnati's Bad Veins warmed the crowd with a powerhouse half-hour set. The two-man-and-a-reel-to-reel band kicked off their set with the sparse rat-a-tat beat marching in the hazy, horn-laced "Found". The reel-to-reel, affectionately known as Irene, handled the portions of the wonderfully crafted songs , front man, Benjamin Davis and, drummer, Sebastien Schultz could not recreate on their own. With Schultz emphatically tumbling his way through the beats and Davis belting out the vocals and dividing his time between the guitar and keys, 'Irene' colored in the horns and strings. The lethargic, sloshed vocals of "Gold And Warm" contrasted the frantic beat. It was a risk that made the fantastic love song sound fresh and dramatic.
The duo continued down the set list, matching the order of the album, with the passionate "Crosseyed" before breaking order into "Afraid", where they provided enough energy and personality for a band double their size. Davis used the phone attached to 'Irene' to add a layer of distortion to his vocals on "Falling Tide", where the rumbling bass and killer beat turned it into the danciest of their set. The only slight issue with the duo is that Irene leaves them no room to do anything outside of the planned setlist. Thankfully, they are good enough performers on stage to make it feel fresh every time out, but it would be nice to suddenly hear them blast out something new that they are working on. Until they shed Irene, or expand the band a bit to a three or four member experience, that is unlikely to happen. As lush and gorgeous as the songs sound, they are good enough to stand on their own in a live setting without the orchestral bits. Regardless, by the end of the too-short set, it was clear they had converted more than a few fans asking 'Who is this?' at the start.
As Tall As Lions seemed to squander the energy provided by Bad Veins' lead-in, with a forty-minute set change that dragged on and finally taking the stage after a minute of Oukast's funky "Spottieottiedogaliscious". The muddled sound of "In Case Of Rapture" left you wondering what all that time tuning instruments and running through sound checks was for. The poor sound mix buried Dan Nigro's vocals beneath a clumsily tangled web of guitars and percussion, turning what should have been one of the most enthralling songs of the night into a cluttered mess. Thankfully, Nigro's move to keyboard for "Go Easy" found a better mic and allowed the soundboard operator to fix the balance, allowing his amazing vocals to shine. The band's use of an extra percussionist on tour paid off, turning the song into a more beat-driven affair that almost sounded like the Latin remix.
Nigro's to-the-rafters vocals on "Circles" showed that you really need to try to bury his voice, as the band continued the string of energetic rockers. There is a dreamy element to much of As Tall As Lions' material on album, but they are definitely a rock band live. Pulling material exclusively from their two most recent full-lengths, the set list was a fantastic showcase of what an excellent live band they are. Even awkward album tracks like the staggering piano-led "We's Been Waitin'" sounded great live. If you went in unsure about You Can't Take It With You, you came out of it with a new appreciation for it. Sounding like a Timbaland collaboration on-disc, "The Narrows" was one of the stand outs of the set; culminating in a killer drum-off between, drummer, Cliff Sarcona and, touring percussionist, 'Scotty'.
Nigro introduced "Song For Luna" claiming, "This is about singing to a girl, who is also the moon", adding, "It's so deep, I don't even understand it". Meaning aside, the fan favorite was one of many dazzling songs off their lush self-titled effort. The spangled guitar and great vocals of "Ghost Of York" proved Nigro's voice the kind you need to hear to believe. Bassist, Julio Tavarez's falsetto showed that Nigro is not the only one in the band with talented pipes, delivering a 'post-sex cigarette' version of the jazzy ballad "Duermete". The band capped off the regular hour-long set with a solid three-song encore, starting with the trippy, Tavarez-sung "You Can't Take It With You". Long before the end of, soaring love song, "Milk And Honey" it was clear As Tall As Lions are a must-see live band. Do not miss your chance when this line-up rolls through your town.
In Case Of Rapture
Song For Luna
A Soft Hum
Where Do I Stand
Ghost Of York
We's Been Waitin'
You Can't Take It With You
Maybe I'm Just Tired
Milk And Honey