Show Review: Tennyson

Hailing from the great white north of Edmonton, Alberta, Tennyson is a brother-sister duo consisting of Luke and Tess Pretty, somehow only 20 and 18 years old, respectively. Originating as a cover band under the moniker Luke and Tess, Tennyson is a more electronic project featuring Luke’s quirky compositions, garnering attention from the music world including Ryan Hemsworth, Skrillex, and even the Denver jazz radio scene. Having already been mind-blown by their show last November, I was excited to see how Tennyson has evolved their live show in the past year.

With Tess behind an electro-acoustic drum kit and Luke bouncing between keyboards, samplers and drum pads, at The Echo it’s hard to understate the incredible musicianship these siblings possess. Along with his enthusiastic command of the sampler (at one point cueing a sample with his nose), Luke’s deft and dynamic keyboard work is unreal, with complex melodies and improvisations fitting in perfectly with the already complex rhythms of the tracks. His singing was also pretty money, despite his disclaimer that he had recently lost his voice from being sick. As far as Tess goes, I have to say, she’s possibly the best drummer I’ve ever seen (and she’s still only 18). While other drummers might have fancier fills or quicker chops, I’ve never seen a drummer that can master the rhythmically and tonally intricate grooves of their songs with her grace and energy, all while catching every single quirky stop and start of their songs in perfect lockstep with her brother.

That said, what I have always loved about Tennyson’s music is that they use musical complexity for emotional purpose. Every single one of their songs has an emotional depth unlike any other artist around today, from moments of humor and joy to crushingly profound bouts of introspection. There is a sense of nostalgia present in much of the group’s work, which I believe stems partially from their sampling of everyday sounds, particularly on their track “Lay-by”. However, that nostalgia is always balanced with uplifting chords and moments of levity, such as their encore song about tomatoes. It was especially awesome to see how much of the audience truly knew each of their songs from their latest releases to their hidden Soundcloud gems, singing and dancing along with every beat.

As I was leaving the venue, a small crowd had gathered in a corner of the club where Luke and Tess were taking pictures with some fans. When watching their musical prowess from the crowd, it’s easy to forget how insanely young the siblings are (Tess just graduated from high school last spring), but up close, they come off like the most normal teenagers you could hope to meet, not quite knowing how to react to the obsessed kids and adults coming up to tell them how genius they think their music is. As drummer Dave King once said, music is about reaching into a spiritual place while remaining grounded in your own reality. Few artists today embody that principle to the complete extent of Tennyson. 

JATIN CHOWDHURY, JAZZ DIRECTOR
JAM SESSIONS, MONDAYS 8-10 P.M.

Photos from The Echo

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