Last Sunday evening the early arriving crowd attending the Tennis show at Lincoln Hall received a rare treat: a performance from an opening band that more than justified the cost of the show. Local group In Tall Buildings performed mannered, yearningly emotional indie rock to a crowd that expressed ambivalence, curiosity, and finally, doting appreciation by the time the set ended.
In Tall Buildings is the solo project of Chicago multi-instrumentalist Eric Hall. These days the assignation “indie” gets bandied about so much it’s lost all meaning. In Hall’s case the term is accurate. His debut, self-titled album was conceived, performed and recorded in the intimacy of Hall’s home studio. He wrote every note and played drums, bass, guitar and added vocals to make his sound come alive. Hall shopped his record around before meeting Billy Helkamp who agreed to mix and release the album on Whistler Records (yes, the fancy cocktail place).
For the performance at Lincoln Hall, In Tall Buildings (the band) was composed of Hall and drummer Quin Kirchner. When a musical project is the product of an individual, the artist faces many challenges when bringing that sound to life. Hall has toured with as many as four supporting musicians during the course of his In Tall Buildings performances. Despite having a limited number of hands on deck, Hall and Kirchner sounded pitch-perfect on stage. Hall has a soft, gentle voice that rang out clearly in a room that grew increasingly crowded. He focuses on playing guitar in live performances and, through creative use of looping pedals, creates wavering walls of sound that more than fill the spaces left in the absence of keyboards and bass. Hall and Kirchner collaborate often and their ease is apparent. Kirchner’s backbeat is lively and reliable and he adds appropriate atmosphere with various percussion instruments.
In Tall Buildings opened their set with two lively numbers that are likely to appear on their second album, expected in late 2012. They followed the new songs with standout track from their debut “Suitor.” This song offers the chilling verse “I found a vial of your toxin / labeled clear as day to do me in / I put it into my body / 100 arrows pierced my skin.” The refrain invokes the 1970s folk rock harmonies that are the bread and butter of bands like Fleet Foxes and Megafaun. Another set highlight was their haunting performance of “Elvis Presley Blues.” The song, originally written and performed by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, invokes figures of American history at the moment of their deaths. It is a beautiful song given fresh life by Hall and Kirchner’s plaintive arrangement.
They closed their show with the first and second songs from their album, “Walking Man” and “The Way to a Monster’s Lair” — the latter being a catchy, rollicking track that sounds like Bon Iver sped up to double-time.
One of the great benefits of living in a city like Chicago is that it’s vibrant music scene gives you the opportunity to catch acts on their way up. In Tall Buildings is one of those bands that leave you with the sensation that they have bigger things ahead. They perform around the city, as opener or headliner, at many venues. It’s worth stopping by to catch the next big thing before they get there.
In Tall Buildings’ next performance is the SXSW Send-Off Party at The Hideout, March 10, 2012.