Duffy attempts (and fails) to muster some pizzazz at the Phoenix August 2.
Sat, Aug 2
TILLY AND THE WALL at Mod Club Rating: NNN
Formed from Conor "Bright Eyes" Oberst's old band, Park Avenue, Nebraska's Tilly and the Wall rocked their coo-y weirdo pop, sounding very much like friends Of Montreal and Rilo Kiley.
The most distinctive feature of Tilly is Jamie Pressnall's role as percussive tap dancer. Decked out like a hipster version of an 80s aerobics instructor, she often tapped on a miked platform overlooking her six bandmates. While her energy and enthusiasm added to the band's great stage presence, the elephant in the room was the fact that her loud tap parts often clashed with the rest of the band's solid instrumentation. At best, the tapping added nothing; at worst it made the songs sound like a studio take with a cranked-up click track left in the mix.
That said, their download-worthy single Beat Control was a satisfying highlight, sounding like a fresh electro take on the Jackson 5.
Sat, Aug 2
DUFFY at the Phoenix Rating: NN
Duffy is like the Disney-rated version of that other, much less cherubic-looking British soul songstress. She's amiable, talented and likely doesn't hoover piles of snow up her nose. In other words, her head is on straight and her career firmly on track. But, damn, if she isn't two limp microphone swings away from being a total snooze onstage.
One of the problems with this Welsh blond - and I'm by far not the first to say it - is that she's dreadfully devoid of personality. I realize that's harsh, but hearing her bellow innocuous lyrics about "hangin' on" and "begging for mercy" without a hint of feeling behind them, as if the words were just perfunctory accessories clipped from Soul Music For Dummies, was an empty experience for all concerned.
Duffy's music doesn't even feel like it's coming from Duffy. She's surrounded by a crack squad of studio aces, and her songs are like calculations in someone else's playbook. Her sweet voice and catchy hits add up to a palatable product without any substance. You don't have to be a waste-case fuck-up to be interesting, just anything but bland.
Sun, Aug 3
THE BLACK KEYS at the Phoenix Rating: NNNN
Surprisingly, it wasn't until the Keys' second song, Set You Free, that the sold-out Phoenix Concert Theatre began to smell distinctly like weed. With all the scruffy beardos in the audience, I expected smuggled joints to be lit the instant the Akron duo hit the stage and lunged into their opener. Maybe people were focusing on the band's boozy blend of heavy blues and Midwestern indie rock, or perhaps they were nervously eyeing the burly Phoenix security detail. Either way, by the second song, smoke was everywhere.
Not that the band seemed to care. Guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney kept the stage banter to an absolute minimum and spent their hour-long set getting very sweaty but never sloppy. While their characteristically short songs pack lots of punch, they began to sound a little repetitive near the end; you can only do so much with one guitar, vocals and drums. But most people were too wasted to notice.