Tally Hall are cutesy, that's kind of their shtick. That and the colored ties they wear, each member sporting a different one. But the cute didn't run quite deep enough during the band's set on Friday night at the Vera Project. Instead, the band offered a polished but mostly dull set of quirky, harmony-rich power pop.
Though it's been six years since the Ann Arbor, Mich., five-piece released their debut LP, Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum, the band has been busy. They've done several tours, produced 10 episodes of an Internet variety show, collaborated with Nellie McKay, and even wrote and recorded all the music for a Disney Channel series called Happy Monster Band. And the Disney connection seems apt given the band's penchant for sunny melodies and proficiency at channeling kiddie-approved influences, from the Beatles to Barenaked Ladies and Queen.Though Tally Hall's 75-minute set for the half-filled Vera Project was proficient, it was also pretty ordinary and seemed to fall short of the band's promise. Take, for example, the way the group entered the stage to a recording from a godlike voice which congratulated the audience on having come to the show since it would be the only tour for the band's new record--a funny concept. But rather than revisiting the idea for laughs throughout the show, that was the voice's only appearance. As well, the group's between-song banter was amusing, and the members are clearly funny, but Tally Hall didn't leverage their wit to spar with the audience or to turn their live show into something multilayered the way they have outside of their recordings. Instead, the band played through their two records in a rather robotic fashion, offering little in the way of song meanings, stories, or crowd interaction. Their one extended crowd exchange seemed to come by default, as time-filler for an acoustic guitar that wasn't behaving.
The band played well together, professional and tight, and each member can sing. They also managed to capture the full sound of their recordings thanks to occasional vocal effects and some drum loops, though their use of technology was lost on some. "Why are they using a drum machine," a showgoer standing next to me wondered. "They have a drummer." As well, each of the band's five members took turns singing lead vocals, even drummer Ross Federman on the set's closer, "Banana Man," on which he was joined by openers Speak and Casey Shea.
There were a few nice moments throughout the show, like during keyboardist Andrew Horowitz' piano ballad, when the band's three front-of-the-stage members--guitarists Rob Cantor and Joe Hawley and bassist Zubin Sedghi--sat down cross-legged and heads down so as to not distract from Horowitz' moment in the spotlight. But the nice moments were too few, and ultimately it felt as if Tally Hall was merely going through the motions and not going for the gusto.
Check, please: Dressed in slacks, vests, and colored ties, Tally Hall would fit right in as high-end cater-waiters if you replaced their instruments with serving trays.
BTW: Openers Speak, from Austin, Texas, were adorable, and looked more likely to be found backstage doing sudoku than blow.