I’ve never been to Black Cat’s Backstage, having always seen the shows upstairs on the Mainstage, so when I got there to see Tennis and Night Sweats, I was a little surprised to find them playing in the tiny Backstage. After all, Tennis is a pretty buzz band, having done a tour to support their second album, Origins, through Europe, North America and elsewhere around the world. They could’ve easily sold the Mainstage by itself, especially with the other bands on the billing such as ON AN ON, Savoir Adore and Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats.
The Backstage is a bit cramped, and it was definitely wasn’t designed with acoustics in mind. For a DIY or punk this would have not been a problem, but the sound was uncomfortably awful throughout the show to the point that ON AN ON, a dream-pop outfit, were noticeably not impressed with the sound. Their delicate and complex sound wasn’t up to their usual standards in such a cramped space.
Up next was the band I came to see: Tennis. Filled to its gills, the Backstage was buzzing to see this cute indie-pop band from Colorado especially since they released their new EP Small Sounds the day prior. As they set up, it was clear that the sound man for the Black Cat faced a problem no sound guy wants to face. The vocals were too soft, but if he increased the volume, feedback came through. They tried their best, and eventually the show started with the song “Petition”. The songs flowed through quickly, showcasing most of their second album as well as their new EP. Halfway through the show, they played crowd favourite “Marathon”, and the lack of vocals was drowned out by the crowd singing along. Their songs reminded the crowd of summer, and though winter arrived in DC recently like a slap in the face, it was nice to remember what a nice summer day on the beach felt like. It felt all too soon when the show ended, a trend I’ve experienced at every Tennis show I’ve been to, even though their set list was around 9 or 10 songs. Tennis’ set list flowed so smoothly that you didn’t realize the show was ending until they dropped their guitar and their bass and left the stage. If not for the sound being absolutely dreadful, through it was no fault of the band’s, it was a pretty good show.
If Tennis played a solid show that wasn’t full of surprises, then Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats was a show full of pleasant surprises. The soulful sound created by a full band (saxophone, trumpet, a few guitars and drums) mixed with Rateliff’s voice created a danceable rhythm. By the third song, the small crowd that stayed for Rateliff was dancing. It was a truly special performance by Rateliff and those who left before they saw him play missed out on an incredibly fun set.