Alaina Moore leads the band Tennis in the first of two sold-out performances at 9:30 Club on March 29, 2023. (Photo by Casey Vock)
Even in 2023, it’s rude to gawk. But when you catch a glimpse of Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley getting high on the sexy magic they’ve found in making illusory, provocative music together as the outfit they call Tennis, you can’t help but gaze at this captivating and talented pair of multi-instrumentalists.
The duo from Colorado visited the nation’s capital last week for a pair of sold-out shows at the 9:30 Club, and in performing back-to-back nights to packed audiences at the V Street venue, Tennis dazzled, delighted, and proved itself to be the uncommon entity born out of passion and purview.
On tour to promote Pollen, the band’s sixth studio album and third on the lead couple’s Mutually Detrimental label, Tennis played two nights in England back in February before beginning its current USA trek in earnest on the East Coast in late March.
Listen to the new album from Tennis, Pollen, via Spotify:
On March 29 in DC, the line stretched around the block and right down 8th Street NW. The festive stream of ticketholders, many dressed in playful, colorful outfits, was ready to celebrate with this dream machine that came into existence back in 2010.
Alaina and Patrick emerged from opposite sides of the stage to start, the lights began to flash horizontally and fans shouted with all their might from any direction. Moore smiled with satisfaction and she seated herself at the piano facing Riley, her husband and musical partner since the pair met as college students in the Mile High City.
Now a four-piece unit including bassist Ryan Tullock and drummer Steve Voss, Tennis glowed in treating the room to “One Night with The Valet,” a favorite from the latest album. It was a chance for the band to synchronize an initial groove and an opportunity for Alaina to find a lusciously high pitch in artful fashion.
And as the band made some gear adjustments, Moore filled the gaps with her quick wit and her eagerness to engage with the audience. She fired off a blurb about how the band came to be, referring to the fateful turn of events as “underground street magic.”
“I was busking and they scooped me up, OK? That’s the real story.”
Emanating from the succulence of what is a visibly powerful and affective bond between its leaders, Tennis is its own breed of fanciful, getaway pop — with a retro fidelity and an alluring style in the way it struts or drifts. Melding surf and indie sounds, Patrick shows mastery on the guitar, essentially playing it and operating a keyboard at the same time in numerous tracks.
And thanks to Alaina’s inconceivably tempting voice, the songs are packed with magnetism, elegance, and flair.
The set on March 29 lifted off and never really came down, as the couple leveraged its unbreakable connection to offer a sensational slice of music that spanned all but one of the Tennis studio albums.
“My Emotions Are Blinding,” from 2017’s Yours Conditionally, was excitingly funky, and as it moved along, Moore shimmered. She and Patrick, looking up from under his long bangs, would make eye contact, attending to each song with their collective tact.
A narrow keyboard sat on a stand on Alaina’s side, and she stood up to use it for the third song of the night.
“We’re so happy to be here tonight, you have no idea,” she told the crowd, and she went on to describe her feelings as nostalgic, recalling when Tennis played the popular club back in 2011 on its own rapid ascent.
“We couldn’t believe that they gave us cupcakes,” she laughed.
Sticking with Yours Conditionally, “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar” was sassy, flirtatious, and stylish in its underdog pursuits, manifesting as a gratifying dance for the folks on any level of 9:30 Club last Wednesday.
As her husband does a great deal of multi-tasking to help create the varied textures and resonance of a song like “Runner,” from 2020’s Swimmer, Alaina finds her beautiful tones with a natural grace, and it makes each track a striking presentation in its own right.
“Forbidden Doors,” with its exotic mix of keys, guitar and of course Moore’s seductive lead, was a marvelous example of what’s made this act such a success, one invited to play massive festivals, make music for a TV show and more, all while the two controlling shareholders have apparently fallen deeper in love.
Watch the official music video for Tennis’ new track “Let’s Make a Mistake Tonight” via the band’s YouTube channel:
The transportive effect lasted throughout, and of course, Alaina showed gratitude as she went, thanking the crowd after most songs.
“So, we have a new album out. It’s called Pollen,” she told the audience, through it was a group well aware of its title and, regardless, enamored by her aura. “To celebrate, I’m having an allergy attack tonight.”
If there was an insinuation that her voice wasn’t up to par, it was lost on most. Moore was heavenly in any song, and even just addressing the audience, her charm was undeniable. Her hope, she added, was that in the room might be a brand rep for Claritin, the commonly used allergy relief medication.
“We want to be the first indie band sponsored by Claritin,” she entertained attendees with her every word, wearing a tight-fitting, sparkling black dress and a what looked like bounty hunter’s snakeskin boots.
An intermission of sorts, Moore engaged the audience in a bit of a live AMA.
“It’s been a while, and I just feel like we need to connect,” she moved about the front of the stage.
“We love you!” came in hot.
“I love you, too, but that’s not a question. … We’ll start with a softball. Where are we from? We’re from Denver. … Raise your hand!” she instructed.
The first arm went up. She pointed. And it was almost predictable.
“Would you like to marry me?” she repeated the first inquiry with a dry smile. She turned to her husband — probably not the first time he’s heard such a wishful proposition pitched to his wife during a performance.
“Pat, release me from this marital bond,” she was a good sport about it all the same. “Yes, meet me after the show with the Claritin rep.”
“Ok, what’s our hair routine?” It was a great question, indeed — a probe into her lovely, bouncing curls and her husband’s perfect 70s do.
“It’s wild, for me, I just trim my hair like a shrub, a three-dimensional object,” she said. “I just cut until it works.”
Alaina claimed, too, that she cuts her husband’s hair using a bowl to shape it. And she talked about some of her curious tattoos, which include sea creatures.
“This here is a space giraffe,” Moore said proudly, explaining that her longtime partner had drawn it for her during an analytic philosophy class and handed it to her on a note before they began dating. She wears it as a tattoo all these years later and revealed that she made Patrick get his own corresponding tattoo — “one for me,” she said.
Asked about her fantasy collaboration, Moore shared her appreciation for English singer-songwriter Vashti Bunyan, whom she referred to as one of the underappreciated psychedelic folk voices of her time.
“Ok, I feel like we know each other now.” And with a brighter luminance, Moore led Tennis onward.
An enduring piece that skips like some of the most addictive Fleetwood Mac tunes, “Diamond Rings” from the 2017 EP We Can Die Happy delivered as a fabulous number, wistful and moseying. With an extra disco ball positioned down low on the stage, songs like this were remarkably polished and benefitted from added saunter thanks to such vivid light work.
The room was at its most animated for some of the standout songs from the new album, including the enticing “Let’s Make a Mistake Tonight” and the quasi-title track, “Pollen Song.” With wondrous lyrics and a distinct sonic quality, this track was as fantastical as any in the set:
“Baby, you and I / We go cruising over highways / Your hand on my thigh / I got one hand out the window / You and I check out the sky / We go cruising over highways / Your hand on my thigh / I got one hand out the window.”
Revisit Tennis’ 2020 studio album, Swimmer, via Spotify:
Moore, Riley and squad closed out with a booming, amplified version of “Need Your Love” before returning for a lengthy encore.
A gorgeous take on “I’ll Haunt You” and an uplifting “My Better Self” from 2013’s Young & Old led up to what was supposed to be a just Alaina and Patrick on stage alone for a duet presentation of “Pillow for a Cloud,” the closer on the new album.
But, with a bit of a tuning issue, it wasn’t meant to be.
Rather than create a fuss, Alaina remembered a request she’d heard earlier in the night — someone had asked for a song from 2014’s Ritual In Repeat.
“Guess what? Someone’s dream’s coming true. We’re playing ‘Bad Girls.’”
Gracious, amusing — she called her husband her “legal property” — and exquisite, Moore might steal the show at any given moment when Tennis is making music. But a careful assessment of this inspiriting project shows it to be the result of fruitful teamwork, a couple’s lasting commitment to one another.
One Night With the Valet
My Emotions Are Blinding
Ladies Don’t Play Guitar
Needle and a Knife
In The Morning I’ll Be Better
Hot To Forgive
Let’s Make a Mistake Tonight
Need Your Love
I’ll Haunt You
My Better Self
Pillow for a Cloud (just the beginning before stopping)
Here are images of Tennis along with the night’s opening act, Kate Bollinger, performing at 9:30 Club the night of March 29, 2023. All photos copyright and courtesy of Casey Vock.