If I had told my mother that I was heading to Callowhill Street, an area filled with fenced-off vacant lots sitting menacingly in the shadows of the old elevated train tracks, she would not have been pleased. I doubt the knowledge that I was journeying that way to get to the cavernous basement of a warehouse-turned-concert venue would have helped her disposition. But I just had to go out there to see what Underground Arts was all about (if you’re reading this, sorry Mom!). After seeing quality act after quality act go through that basement, I finally decided to get up there to see the band Tennis Sept. 30.
In previous months I had dismissed Underground Arts as a feasible city concert venue, mainly due to the 21-and-over age policy. But recently the age restrictions have been lifted on most shows, opening up the venue and its concerts to even more patrons. After nervously walking through Chinatown and beyond, I finally arrived at 1200 Callowhill Street. I walked underneath the neon “Underground Arts” sign and suddenly heard a song off Peter Matthew Bauer’s debut solo album, “Liberation!” I eagerly rushed down the stairs to see if it was live or just a recording and lo and behold, there is Bauer playing to a crowd of maybe eight people. Crazy! A member of the recently on long-term hiatus band The Walkmen, Bauer’s solo record is full of great tracks. My personal favorite, “Latin American Ficciones,” was incredible to see from just a few feet away. The energy and passion were so clearly on display in such an intimate setting; it was simply a fantastic way to experience live music.
I also got pretty surprised when I realized the guitarist from Tennis, Patrick Riley, has been calmly sipping a beer and watching Bauer’s set right next to me. It’s something that can only really happen at such a small venue. The artists selling their own merchandise is fun, too. It gives fans a great chance to talk with the artists they admire.
The venue filled up just a little bit as Pure Bathing Culture took the stage. The indie pop group from Brooklyn is built around singer Sarah Versprille and guitarist Daniel Hindman. From the first song it was easy to see why they were touring with Tennis. The strong connection between lead singer and guitarist was readily apparent as they went through a set of songs that straddled the line between dream and surf pop. The group was a pleasant surprise, seeing as I had never heard of them before and had no idea what to expect. Hindman was incredible on guitar, finger picking his way through riffs in a way reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham. Almost every song had a sweet guitar solo in it and it’s really neat to be able to see the guitarist’s fingers dance around the frets up close.
Shortly after 10 p.m. it was time for the main event, Tennis. The venue had filled up considerably and people began to pack the front of the stage. The Denver-based group received a nice round of applause as they got settled on stage. Lead singer and wife of Riley, Alaina Moore, acknowledged the crowd warmly as they got right into their set. Tennis’ sound has continued to mature with their latest album, “Ritual in Repeat.” They’ve taken on a more soulful vibe on top of their poppy sound. The result is more weighty album that includes such standout tracks as “Mean Streets” and “I’m Callin’.” It seems difficult to create arrangements that don’t overpower Moore’s sweet-sounding vocals, but they seemed to strike the right balance in the intimate venue.
The aforementioned “I’m Callin’” and “Origins,” as well as the closer, “Marathon,” sounded effortlessly groovy as concert-goers danced around in time with the tunes. I think Tennis is a band that sounds a lot better in a smaller venue. I saw them at the Tower Theater last May and their sound didn’t hold up quite as well. They are a band that is extremely well-suited to the intimate experience Underground Arts has to offer.
If you see that a band you like is coming to Underground Arts, I highly recommend going. It is a real up-and-coming venue that seems to be a somewhat well-kept secret at the moment. Head on over there before the word gets out.