The other night, on a Sunday in Lawrence, I walked down the street and watched the band, Tilly and the Wall, perform at a place called the Jackpot Saloon.
This was surprising for a few reasons, namely that I didn’t know that Tilly and the Wall was still a thing. So, yes, that would have to rate as the most surprising aspect of the night. A little background: When I was in college, I worked for the student radio station at KU, KJHK, perhaps the most hipster thing in a really fucking hipster town.
I was on the sports staff, mostly doing play-by-play for KU basketball games, and occasionally going to staff meetings that looked like the editorial staff at VICE went to a bar in Greenpoint and the whole thing exploded into one mess of scarves and glasses and plaid shirts from the 1970s.
Back in those days, KJHK would play a “rotation” of new indie tracks to serve as the core of its daily musical content. And somehow — I don’t exactly recall the exact circumstances — I stumbled into Tilly’s 2006 album, “Bottom of Barrels.” It contained a standout track, “The Freest Man”, and for reasons that remain a mystery, I ended up with it on my iTunes playlist for the rest of the semester.
It was one of those songs you listen to in college, the kind of track that isn’t known by the masses, but that makes it even more appealing. This wasn’t even a particularly great song. But it was good. Not great; but good.
So on a random Sunday, after I arrived back in Lawrence from a weekend trip to Norman, Okla., for a KU football game, I saw that Tilly and the Wall was playing at the Jackpot in Lawrence.
WAIT, FOR REAL? (Yep.)
This leads us to the second most surprising aspect of the night. I went by myself. I know… shameful, right? Back in the day, when you’re 20 or 21 and living in a college town, it’s pretty standard procedure that you must roll everywhere in a pack. Three. Four. Five. Whatever, you must roll DEEEEEP.
Back in the day, it would have been weird to walk into a bar and start drinking by yourself. In this way, being a 26-year-old is pretty liberating. Drinking by yourself goes from depressing to an ongoing necessity. Going to shows by yourself goes from something a loner does to something a total dude does. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself.
This leads us to the third most surprising aspect of the night. The tap dancer. Yes, a fucking tap dancer. I had no idea that Tilly and the Wall used a tap-dancer as one of their main percussionists. It really is a sight to behold. Some smiley, dark-haired girl stands in the middle of the stage and tap-dances her ass off. Seriously, this girl — Jamie Pressnall — may be the happiest person I’ve seen in person. This is not hyperbole.
For nearly two hours, she smiled and smiled and smiled, all while sweating like an overweight truck driver doing wind sprints in a sauna. She was amazing.
This leads us to the fourth most surprising aspect of the night. In Lawrence, there’s apparently a certain subsection of the populace that believes Tilly and the Wall to be Lennon/McCartney Part II. Seriously. There were probably only 40 or 50 people at this show. Honestly, maybe more like 30. I’ve never been good at counting crowds. But there were about 20 people right near the stage, dancing and fist-pumping and screaming and more or less acting like sugar-high hipster maniacs. They sang every word.
There was also an old man. He appeared to be by himself — although, to say he was old wouldn’t quite be fair. He appeared to be in his late 50s. But in a crowd like this, he stuck out like a well, … a 50-year-old at a Tilly and the Wall show, I guess.
I’ve really never seen anything like it. He danced around, looking for someone to high-five, snaking to the side of the stage, and then moving back to the front. It was all too much.
This leads us to the fifth most surprising aspect of the night. The lead singer, a lovely blonde named Kianna Alarid, appeared to have a tattoo of “Pat”, the androgynous Saturday Night Live character, on her shoulder.
Now, was this really a tattoo of Pat? I don’t think so. I was standing about 10 feet away, and it was dark, and I couldn’t quite see clearly. But here’s the thing: I believed that it MAY have been Pat, that such a thing wasn’t totally out of the realm of possibility, that maybe it WAS Pat. And that, I think, says all you need to know about watching Tilly and The Wall in person.
You don’t exactly know what you’re watching. It’s happy and weird and kind of entertaining. But it’s also believable. And as I walked back out in the warm fall night, the sidewalks on Mass Street mostly empty, I thought about that tattoo of Pat. … Yea. I really hoped it was Pat.