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The Grog Shop
Tilly & the Wall
Monday, Oct 08, 2012 8:30 PM EDT (7:30 PM Doors)
Tilly & the Wall
/ Nicky Da B / Nights
Monday, Oct 08, 2012 8:30 PM EDT
Grog Shop, Cleveland Heights, OH
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It’s been four years since Tilly and the Wall has released an album, and it couldn’t have come at a better — or more crucial — time. With the one-year anniversary of the Occupy movement almost upon us and a divisive presidential election right around the corner, the quintet has re-emerged decidedly wiser and more mature, but with all its child-like exuberance intact, to offer musical and moral encouragement to these heavy times. At this juncture, Tilly and The Wall represents not one party or ideology, but its own radical movement, apolitical but fervently pro-people, reasserting its belief in the power of love, friendship and brash anthemic choruses that we all can chant, clap and stomp along to together.
Since the group’s inception in Omaha, Nebraska more than a decade ago – recording its first sides with Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes in his basement – Tilly and the Wall has managed to ingeniously combine folk-rock strumming, schoolyard sing-along rhymes, unison male-female vocals and rapid-fire beats via the amplified tap-dancing of Jamie Williams Pressnall, who fulfills the role of a traditional percussionist in a joyfully unorthodox manner. Their lyrics are as quirkily imaginative as the arrangements, embracing a kind of fearlessness and freedom in matters of the heart, the body and the soul. On stage and on record, singers Kianna Alarid Cameron and Neely Jenkins, keyboardist Nick White, and singer-guitarist Derek Pressnall evince a clear-eyed positivity, meant to keep darker forces at bay, to ameliorate the everyday struggles and setbacks we all face. The most life-affirming song of their early years was pointedly called “Night Of the Living Dead” and audiences everywhere would join them in the live-set closing pledge of “I want to fuck it up!” — boisterously declaimed en masse each night.
‘Heavy Mood,’ TATW’s fourth full-length album for Team Love, opens just as boldly with the war whoops that announce “Love Riot,” propelled by Jamie’s tap-dancing percussion, slightly ominous fuzz-toned guitar from Derek, and lead vocalist Kianna’s impassioned back-and-forth with a multi-tracked choir of punk-defiant voices. (“I can’t hold it in!” is the call; “No!” is the response.) The title track, featuring its pumping dance beat, is just as exhortative, a street protest recast as a block party, with Derek delivering the core message of the set: “I got the power because I live like I want!” The BPM’s may turn gentler in several of the songs that follow, but the atmosphere is no less compelling. The lyrics become more narrative and, especially on the eighties-flavored “Let Go” and the slow electronic rhythms of “I Believe In You,” take on a wistful, openhearted tone. “Static Expression,” with its bell-ringing chorus, feels like a contemporary indie-rock version of a Phil Spector extravaganza, courtesy of the band’s longtime producer and studio cohort Mike Mogis. By album’s end, with “Youth” and “Defenders,” this new version of Tilly and the Wall is once again defining its status as free-form musical activists while urging a younger generation to let its own freak flag fly.