Tennis Serves up Dream Pop at First Avenue

Stage lights illuminate Alaina Moore, who is singing with her eyes closed. Husband and musical partner Patrick Riley is bent over his keyboards to the left.
Alaina Moore of Tennis sings to the First Avenue Crowd on April 8, 2023. Photo by Kathleen Ambre.

Last updated on April 21st, 2023 at 09:33 am

Band name trends can be purely coincidental, but Colorado’s Tennis might be able to take the credit for kicking off a slew of sports-themed band names over the past decade. Forming in 2008, Tennis preceded Australia’s Hockey Dad (2013), Nashville’s Soccer Mommy (2015), and British alt-rockers Sports Team (2016). But like their colleagues, there’s much more to this group than their name.

Husband-wife duo Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley brought their airy pop to First Avenue on Saturday night and proved that their songwriting, musical prowess, and retro fashion sense make a powerful combination. Together with drummer Steve Voss and bassist/keyboardist Ryan Tullock, they mesmerized the crowd with hook-laden choruses and instrumental riffs.

Wide angle shot of band members on the First Avenue Stage
Tennis performs live on the First Avenue main room stage, April 8, 2023. Photo by Kathleen Ambre.

They also demonstrated a knack for drama and timing, marking their entrance with a darkened stage and a backing track. Riley’s guitar rang out three heavy distorted chords as they launched into “One Night with the Valet,” with his partner sitting at her electric piano. From there, the rest of the show was about watching Moore seduce the crowd with a wicked combination of charismatic stage presence and breezy melodies.

Closeup of Alaina Moore singing with her eyes closed, and floating her left arm at shoulder height.
Photo by Kathleen Ambre

Their second number, “My Emotions Are Blinding,” is representative of their style: a singalong chorus, quirky lyrics, and a noodling guitar part that meshes incredibly well with the rhythmic instruments. I did miss the vocal harmonies that are present on the recording, though; if anyone sang them, it wasn’t clear enough for me to hear.

The audience for the night was enthusiastic, obviously excited to be out on what felt like the first night of spring in downtown Minneapolis. Packing the dance floor and dressed to the nines, they sang along with Moore as she stood up for their third song, “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar.”

Photo over the heads of a packed crowd enjoying a lit up stage with four band members.
Photo by Kathleen Ambre

Although Riley rarely peeked out at the crowd from behind his blond locks, it was obvious from his body language that he has a magnetic chemistry with his fellow musicians, and the real fun was watching him effortlessly switch between guitar and keys. Everything he did, from tasty guitar licks to the occasional solo, served to support the song.

Closeup of Patrick Riley playing a green Fender guitar
Photo by Kathleen Ambre

You could say that about all the musicians on stage. Mounted on a riser at the back of the stage, Tullock deftly switched to keys for several songs with impeccable timing. Also set on a riser, Voss laid down danceable beats, making strategic use of tempos on the more complex songs.

Bassist focusing intently on his parts, standing in front of a keyboard
Photo by Kathleen Ambre

But let’s be honest, the real star was Moore, whether she was strutting out front with just a microphone in her hand or comping from one of her two keyboards. At one point, I found myself wishing for a longer cable so she could engage further with the crowd without being tethered. But she still held us captive, announcing how thrilled they were to be able to headline venues they once played as an opener, and all without the help of a major label.

Alaina Moore dances while Patrick Riley plays keyboards to her right
Photo by Kathleen Ambre

Virginia’s Kate Bollinger opened the show with about eight tasteful tunes delivered with a smoky-smooth voice reminiscent of Norah Jones. A sizable percentage of the crowd was early enough to catch her set, and they were rewarded with comforting coffee house vibes.

Closeup of Kate Bollinger singing while strumming her guitar. Her guitarist is to her right.
Kate Bollinger on the First Avenue main stage, April 8, 2023. Photo by Kathleen Ambre.

Her three sidemen didn’t bring a lot of stage presence or tonal variety to the performance, but their classy use of space, breaks, and tempo supported the songs extremely well. In my opinion, Bollinger’s standout number was “J’aime Les Filles,” carrying a simple melody that stayed in my brain despite the unfamiliar French lyric.

Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley both bent over their keyboards, facing one another.
Photo by Kathleen Ambre

Nearing the end of Tennis’ first set, Moore told the audience that everyone in the room had a gift, and it was up to each person to decide if they were going to let someone stop them from sharing it with the world. As they launched into “Let’s Make a Mistake Tonight,” I could tell I wasn’t the only one thankful that nobody had stopped Moore and Riley from sharing their gifts.

Alaina Moore smiles at the audience from behind her keyboard
Photo by Kathleen Ambre

They closed the set with the title track of their newest album Pollen and another of my favorites, “Need Your Love,” which sounds to me like Frankie Valli wrote a jazz-pop opus for Blondie. At the end of the inevitable 3-song encore, Moore picked up one of Riley’s guitars to strum chords for the closing minutes of “Glorietta.”

I guess on a spring night in Minneapolis, while owning the stage that Prince made famous, the lady of Tennis does play guitar.

Alaina Moore plays the tambourine and sings with her bandmates nearby
Photo by Kathleen Ambre

Kate Bollinger Set List

  • Lonely
  • Who Am I But…
  • Look At It
  • Boys in my Head
  • Any Day Now
  • Running
  • J’aime Les Filles
  • Lady in the Darkest Hour

Tennis Set List

  • One Night With the Valet
  • My Emotions Are Blinding
  • Ladies Don’t Play Guitar
  • Runner
  • Forbidden Doors
  • Matrimony
  • Needle and a Knife
  • Paper
  • Diamond Rings
  • Hotel Valet
  • No Exit
  • In the Morning I’ll Be Better
  • How to Forgive
  • Let’s Make a Mistake Tonight
  • Pollen
  • Need Your Love
  • I’ll Haunt You
  • My Better Self
  • Glorietta

Written by Mike Dolbow


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