Tally Hall Live – Put it on Your Bucketlist (A review of 3/13/10 in St. Louis)

Having been a fan of Tally Hall since “Directions” graced my eyes and ears, I must say that this little concert write-up has been a long time coming.  It seems like forever ago that I saw a short clip of “Greener” being performed at some Ann Arbor area bar and, vehemently cursing my geographical disadvantage, promising myself that someday I would go see these guys live.  After religiously watching every single comedy sketch, every episode of the Boralogue, and the entirety of the glorious Internet Show, I was delighted to discover that there would be a show in St. Louis on March 13th, 2010.  A mere two and a half hours separated a few friends and me from what we hoped would be an enjoyable evening of musical things.

After a depressingly uneventful trip through Illinois, we were greeted happily by the St. Louis skyline. Upon arriving at the Firebird, we ducked inside to see about the “Will-Call” ticket procedure.  A man (who I suspect was a part time lumberjack) gruffly asked me if I was in one of the bands. Shaking my head, I glanced around and saw Rob and Zubin wrestling with some of their equipment.  Rob just about had his guitar case pinned when the round ended and the individuals returned to their corners.  The lumberjack man politely (though rustically) informed me that we could pick up our tickets at 7:00. As it turns out, the lumberjack was incorrect.  I hesitate to fault the gentleman, however, for his profession centers on wood , not the intricacies of clockwork. We stepped outside and sat down underneath a large St. Patrick’s Day tent, about thirteen feet from the door.

About a minute or two later, Andrew exited the venue with a thin (and slightly eerie) looking man I had never seen before.  They walked across the nearly vacant lot towards the Van/Trailer with relative ease, pausing only to allow Andrew to slip on a pile of discarded ice.  Looking up as if to say “Yeah, I slipped. Big Deal!” he gave us a vaguely embarrassed look and continued on his way.  Minutes later he made his way back inside with a keyboard stand, using some of the parked cars as cover.  As the door opened, I heard Rob sound checking his guitar with the chords of Never Meant to Know.  I would be lying if I told you I didn’t soil myself a bit. That having been said, I didn’t soil myself. Not even a bit.

After spending a few hours in less interesting parts of St. Louis, we returned to the Firebird at around 6:45.  It was raining, and I had to pee.  A few minutes later my friend Joe arrived, carrying a couple sheets of paper and the most childish smile I’ve ever seen him smile.  Shortly thereafter we got in line and waited for 7:00 to roll around.  To make a long story short, there is a certain lumberjack in St. Louis who owes me thirty minutes of his woodcutting services.  At 7:32 they allowed us in, bedazzling our hands with permanent marker X’s.  A man with bleached hair and glasses assured me that they were doing so in order to keep track of the number of paraplegics in the venue.  I suspected this was a lie, and noted that I no longer had any reason to trust anyone from St. Louis. Especially not bleach-blonde visually challenged lumberjacks.

Upon entering the venue (Legitimately, this time), I took note of the merchandise stands to my left.  Fighting the urge to call their mountains of swag “merch,” I nudged my friend and pointed.  We approached and were delighted at our discovery.  The Tally Hall area had just as much character as expected.  A vintage style 50 cent vending machine, filled with various tally hall stickers and tattoos and plastic doo-dads, sat at our left.  On the right sat a few items that reminded me of the cover of Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum. Also on display were a vinyl copy of the album, and a few (select) sizes of the various Tally Hall shirts.  To the far left was a wealth of swag for Skybox and Jukebox the Ghost—bands I was quite excited to hear.  Most surprising of all, however, was the fact that Andrew himself was standing at the merchandise stand.  I talked to him for a minute or two, embarrassing myself and exposing my ignorance of vinyl and record players.  I was further pleased to discover that he was actually a pretty friendly guy, despite what I had always perceived (through the internets) to be shyness.  He didn’t even make fun of my trashy “I’m-growing-this-because-I-lost-a-bet” mustache, which was truly impressive.  He recommended that I try vinyl sometime, as it produced a much ‘warmer’ sound.  I nodded, thanked him for the tip, and walked away.

As I floated away, Joe (my friend Joe, not the infamous ‘Hawley’ variety of Joe) began chatting with him.  He handed Andrew a couple of papers, talked to him for a few minutes, and for some reason received a trophy.  Standing about a foot and a half tall, the trophy was of a satisfying weight and read “Henry Hume IV – 1st Place.”  Joe couldn’t possibly have been more delighted.  I expect he’ll be writing a little story about it himself soon, so I won’t go into much more detail.

A few minutes later, a local band called Men Working in Trees began to play. They played an excellent song entitled “Welcome to Prom Night,” and a handful of songs that I suppose have titles.  In the intermission between Men Working in Trees and Skybox, I decided to go buy that vinyl copy of Marvin’s. I don’t even own a record player, but just holding it is electrifying works pretty well.

UPDATE: I managed to find an old but really clean sounding record player for the low low price of “$Free,” and I’m extremely satisfied with my decision to buy the vinyl. It sounds awesome and I highly recommend it. It’s like listening to an entirely different album.

Next, Skybox came on.  A friend of mine put it best when he said “Dude, these guys are awesome but I’m #&!@ing scared of them.”  At one point during the show, I nudged another of my friends and handed him a sweatband that Joe had given me to wear “in honor of the great Joe Hawley.”  I pointed at the keyboardist who was dripping with sweat and standing a foot away from us.  My friend handed the keyboardist the sweatband (which matched the fella’s keyboard, as he so happily pointed out), and some pretty lively stage banter followed.  Some of the songs they played included “In a Dream” which was my personal favorite, and a song with “Kitchen Utensils” in the title.  Joe later pointed out to me that it was the song that played in the “Two Wuv” episode of THIS. Huh.  Anyway, Skybox was awesome and I’ll certainly be commandeering their CD when my friend is done worshipping it.

Jukebox the Ghost played next, and they were equally amazing.  The drummer was dressed like a formal lumberjack (but was punctual, interestingly enough), wearing a sky blue dress shirt and red suspenders.  Their keyboardist, a carbon copy of Brett McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords, had an interesting habit of keeping his eyes wide open and looking in every direction other than his keyboards.  That said, he manipulated the keys with an almost superhuman dexterity.  My mind envisioned an epic pianist battle between “Atomic” Andrew Horowitz and “Crazy Eyes” Jukebox pianist, but the details of that imagined scenario are too graphic to reproduce on paper. Several continents were destroyed, and all records of ancient civilization vanished from History textbooks around the world.  Though some of their songs may have lasted a little longer than my Tally Hall starved mind could handle, they were a very good group and they played excellently.

Now, I think it is necessary at this point to assert a simple statement of fact. I am not a psycho. I am not one of those people who blindly falls in love with someone or something, so much so that they are unable to see the forest for the trees.  I went into this performance with an open mind, ready to critique if there were a need for it.  I knew what the trees looked like, but I was going to try my best to get a good look at the forest.

That said, if Tally Hall were a forest I’d forsake civilization and live in it. This show was amazing. I expected a 10/10, and I received something like a 17/10.  I always knew they were a fun bunch, but the show I received was the single most amazing piece of entertainment in my young adult life.  These guys set the “stage presence” bar so high, St. Peter would consider using it in a game of heavenly limbo.

After a brief stretch of sound-checking and troubleshooting onstage, the tie-clad Ann Arborists were ready to go.  A hip-hoppy and lively drum loop began, and all the band members crouched down.  At an appropriate moment in the loop, they stood up in unison and dove right into their first song: “Out In the Twilight.”  Making use of some high chords and a touch of auto-tuner for robotic effect, this song really set things off.  I had to remind myself frequently to look up from my camera, and each time I did I was hit by a wall of stunning realization—these guys actually existed.

After “Out in the Twilight” finished, I told myself I would only record ‘new’ songs.  I later amended my decision by adding ‘stage banter’ to my list of things to catch on film (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pk56_f3Ss-Y for a compilation of stage banter that I put together).  Among the other songs I caught on film were (in no particular order and by no means all inclusive) “Cannibal,” “Never Meant to Know”, “The Trap,” and “You and Me.”  Also played were some excellent live versions of “Ruler of Everything,” “Good Day,” “Greener,” and “Misery Fell.” I feel like I might be forgetting one or two from the stage set.  Anyone else at the St. Louis Show, feel free to chime in with your addendums.

At the end of what I’ve been calling the “stage set,” a short pre-recorded message featuring the voice of Rob Cantor explained that the band would be migrating into the audience.  We were also informed that a few ‘helpers’ would be distributing “Souvenir Butt Protectors,” for sitting-on-the-ground purposes.  I never got one, but I’ve been told they were restaurant style kids-meal activity sheets. Priceless.  After they were set up off-stage, several vintage and modern style lamps were turned on, illuminating the band for a (mostly) acoustic set among the fans.  They played a few new songs that I had trouble hearing clearly ( I want to say one of them was “You,” but I’ll need to go back and listen to the recording again and see), as well as live versions of some Marvin’s classics.  “The Bidding,” “The Whole World and You,” “ Taken for a Ride,” and a song sung by Casey Shea come to mind.

Note: If you’re curious what Casey Shea looks like, find a copy of REO Speedwagon’s “You can Tune a fork but you can’t Tuna fish.” And check out the photo of Kevin Cronin on the back.  They’re genetically identical.

Casey Shea (AKA Kevin Cronin)

As the living room set drew to a close, Tally Hall invited the other performers (Skybox, Jukebox the Ghost, Men Working in Trees) to come over and play a final song with them.  Each band member was given some sort of awkward gradeschool level musical instrument (chimes, plastic recorders, that wooden fish thingy, shakers, etc.) and Zubin led the group in a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecelia” that almost made me cry.  With that ended the show and one of the most exhilarating musical experiences I’ve ever been subjected to.

Beyond that there isn’t much else to tell.  I made a quick jaunt over to Andrew while Joe was talking to him, quickly interjected that I had bought a vinyl as per his suggestion, and nodded at his encouragement to find a record player for it.  I also let Casey Shea know that even though he had big shoes to fill, his feet were most certainly big enough for the task.  Following that I let Ross know how amazing his playing was (The guy is a whirlwind of percussion, for real. Three instruments at once during the acoustic set), but I have a feeling I just made him feel a little awkward.  I didn’t get a chance to talk to Rob or Zubin, but a few of my friends procured pictures with Zubin and my friend Joe got all five of their signatures on his CD copy of Marvin’s. Casey signed the backside of the booklet, and there is ample room for Joe Hawley to sign it on the front someday.

I don’t have much of a shocking conclusion to end this play-by-play, but I will say one last thing:  If Tally Hall is ever playing within five hours of you, go see them. It is worth the drive several times over.  The experience will redefine live music for you.

Note: A lot of the footage I recorded is uploaded to youtube already under the username “StoltzJordan.”  I’ve been pretty busy since the show, though, so it might take a while to get the rest of my stuff up there.  If you check out just one video, though, make it the Stage Banter Compilation. It’s pretty fun.

 

Out in the Twilight – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pk56_f3Ss-Y

 

Cannibal / Never Meant to Know – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rA2boplHT0Q

 

The Trap – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOZOirCwSlA

Thanks for reading, fellas!

-Jordan Stoltz

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