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As Tall As Lions @ The Troubadour 6/29/07

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There are some days when I think to myself, “Man, I really love my job.” I teach writing to college students; not the line of work most people want to get into, but for me, it’s my calling. I have these moments when I realize a student has made improvements, or grasped a concept, or found a new confidence as a writer. It’s a beautiful thing, and I can get a little emotive about it; you can tell that I like what I do. Why am I telling you all this? Because on Friday night, before the young men of As Tall As Lions even issued forth a single chord, all I could think was that it was quite evident that they are the kind of people who truly love what they do. And when the music kicked in, I affirmed immediately that I was right.

Playing songs predominantly found on their 2006 self-titled release, As Tall As Lions put on one of the most solid club venue shows I've had the pleasure of attending. Having been turned on to their album through a friend, I was delighted to see that the band has an extremely devoted fan base here in Los Angeles, and that many of the attendees knew every single lyric--and weren't shy about singing along. It was evident that ATAL wasn't used to this kind of response from a crowd. Bass player Julio Tavarez's eyes sparkled with mischievous delight as he surveyed the venue and quickly connected with those fans closest to his mic stand. This is where I was situated, behind a couple I would soon discover I could assign the label "The only two people in here who like to show enthusiasm by sticking their arms way up in the air and holding them there." That couple was in absolute heaven, and, proving what's great about small venue shows, the band knew it. And the band was in heaven, too.

ATAL's sound is like going on a roller coaster ride. Opening strains of songs are gentle, and coaxing, often employing teasing piano notes. The ascent tugs you forward with the promise of something exciting to come. Then the drop whisks you down he first of many heart-racing hills at an accelerated pace; you jolt forward in a rush of adrenaline--climbing again, desceding again. You shout out, you throw your hands up in the air, and you surrender to the winds, the motion, the exhileration--all of which is sonically represented by hauntingly beautiful vocal harmonies, and absorbing multilayered dialogues between the instruments, particularly the drum and bass. Although their sound is the sort of contemporary alternative rock that is embraced with the angst-laden gusto of a KROQ devotee, ATAL possess a lyric sophistication that makes their songs more accessible to a wider demographic--namely those of us whose radio dials tend to settle in at 89.9. In their set Friday night they moved with ease between bouncier up-tempo numbers like the audience requested "Soft Hum" ("Let's get dancing!" exclaimed front man Dan Nigro with a broad grin), moodier melodies like my personal favorite, "Ghost of York" and the gentle acoustic solo "I'm Kicking Myself" and included other album tracks like "Stab City," "Where Do I Stand," and the beautiful "Love, Love, Love (Love, Love)."

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As their set came to a close both the band and the audience were sad to see things end for the night. Throughout the show my enjoyment was balanced between hearing the music and watching them play it, particularly as bassist Tavarez gave himself over to the music and its frenzy; his expressivity is utterly mesmerizing, as are Nigro's vocals and their delivery. I couldn't help but think about work--my job and why sometimes I love it. I thought about when I teach my students that as writers, their task is to make their audience's job easy. It's no wonder I enjoyed As Tall As Lions so much then--they seem to have stolen a lesson from the pages of my handbook: As performers, they made their audience's job easy.

Photo by Lindsay William-Ross for LAist

[Flickr user Jenya Campbell has a great photoset of the band's Seattle show earlier in the week; I struggled with those darn arms shooting up in front of me song after song and wound up with a smattering of lousy shots.]