Twenty-one year-old Ari Herstand supported Zox and Tally Hall at the High Noon Saloon as a one-man band of vox, acoustic guitar, trumpet, beat box, and loops. At first glance, this "Poster Boy Celebrity" looked like just another folk act, but quickly pleased with a voice similar in texture to Ron Sexsmith, and songs filled with catchy hooks and intricate layers. In the future, Herstand will hopefully wield his skills for deeper muses.
Letting Zox rock your socks at a steamy venue on the Eastern Seaboard is a right of passage for anyone who's gone to college in the Northeast since 2000. Yesterday evening, Zox brought a bit of that salty, Rhode Island sea air with them, melting away thoughts of winter with a spirited blend of dub, rock, jam, ska, dance-pop, and punk. Zox proved once again that they can work a stage as well as some of the biggest acts you've ever seen.
Lead singer and guitarist Eli Miller sang simply and purely, his charm appearing in little nuances -- grooving with the bass lines, smiling widely at his bandmates during jams, and getting one foot up on the amp to dig into his guitar solos. Bassist Dan Edinberg bobbed his head and harmonized backing vocals in between picking and gesturing like a snake charmer. Drummer John Zox was as in your face as the wind on State St. When little Zox watched "The Muppet Show" and told his parents, "I wanna grow up to be Animal," they probably shrugged it off. But the man is the Muppet! Bashing around in a sleeveless shirt, pouring water over his head, and wildly swinging his blonde hair to and fro, Zox could have heated the building with his energy.
Add that electricity to Spencer Swain's nasty violin work, and Madison could be aglow for days. The tattooed Swain ripped on electric violin, wailing with the slick moans and crackling cries usually made by electric guitar. Whether playing furiously as he hunched over his instrument or simultaneously kick jumping and bowing his fiddle (as he did in the old favorite "The Squid") Swain was beyond thrilling.
A couple of songs were a bit too prime-time-teen-drama soundtrack, but there was nothing ghastly. Then again, the one cover, the harder "Where Is My Mind?" by the Pixies, got me to clap my hands and say yeah, but made the girl at the table next to me -- who swooned to my least favorites -- roll her eyes. Obviously not every song provided the same fulfillment, but with so many genres, it's hard to hit -- and equally hard to miss.
Starting off your set with a bunch of nostalgia inducing commercials is a great ploy to play on the emotions of twenty-somethings who've not seen the Tuba Aruba and Teddy Ruxpin ads since they were 6. But gaining attention only to play your own lengthy music video -- a song that you will play a few tunes after your first live song and which happens to be the karaoke standard "Free Bird"?! One word: lame. Advice to headliners Tally Hall: take some of the money from your flashy film and put it into some night courses on marketing.
It was hard to get the overused, uninspired cover out of my head, but once I did, these lads from Ann Arbor indicated why they've attracted such a broad college and Internet fanbase.
Dressed in matching shirt and tie outfits with individually colored ties, Tally Hall looked like Power Ranger accountants. And their mix of comic dance pop, lush harmonies and musical theatre antics hint they are onto something. All songs, including "Banana Man," their ode to Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, "Two Wuv," and their matchless rendition of Biz Markie's "Just A Friend," showcased something rarely heard in bands today: excellent vocals. These boys could really sing. If this rock thing doesn't work out, Broadway might be an option. Vocal leads were switched with ease and harmonies were flawless; in their case, practice has definitely made perfect. Their '50s-style vocals and driving pop successfully brings back the twist -- and axes the bump'n'grind.
Sitting the audience in a "Kumbaya" circle to gain intimacy proved that they needn't use the technical whimsy relied upon by lesser bands. A few bars of "Down By the Bay" exhibited that their intentions may just be to have a good time. Choreographed numbers, comical deliveries and voices and other tricks were at times on par with Weird Al and other times like that lame sketch comedy troupe from high school. Their vocal harmonies are great, but they really to focus on tightening their act.