Tall Heights dazzles at the Coffeehouse
With the first percussive stroke of guitar and sliding groan of cello, Tall Heights went from unknown to undeniable in the Coffeehouse last Friday night. When they took the stage, without hype or introduction, the unassuming duo could have easily been mistaken for two Colby students in their flannel and jeans. They quietly announced they were from Boston, Mass., thanked us for coming and stepped back from the mic.
What followed can only be described as ascension.
Wide airy chords burst from frontman Tim Harrington’s guitar and filled the distance between the stage and the audience gathered in the back of the room. Paul Wright roamed the long neck of his cello, plucking and sliding through quivering phrases that surged from the background to the melody and back again. The two wove their voices, both of which would have sufficed as the lead, into an undulating cloth of harmony above the warm, shifting tones spilling from their instruments.
Their sound, while unique, brought to mind Bon Iver and Iron and Wine—music that stirred up more contemplation than desire to dance in the crowd. The big couches, arm chairs and soft floor of the Coffeehouse provided the perfect setting for their music, and students tapped their toes, bobbed their heads, closed their eyes and swayed in a once-disparate crowd transformed into a community of eager listeners.
When at their best, Tall Heights started and stopped, rose from whispers to wails, shot from cut time to double and chopped up traditional song structure into an eclectic mesh of verses, bridges, pre-choruses and breakdowns. That being said, their sound was the easiest to digest when it stuck to its folky roots, and the crowd was able to lock into Harrington’s more basic strumming patterns and chord progressions, responding in claps and hoots as he picked out the tempo.
Toward the end of their set, a fan shouted out a request. Harrington and Wright were so shocked by this and excited that someone knew one of their songs that they immediately played through the tune, even though they had planned on using it to end the night. In its place, when the crowd cried for an encore after they had put down their instruments, Tall Heights moved through an eloquent cover of “Skinny Love” and stepped from the stage with a reminder that they were selling “Rafters,” their latest EP, for the price of a “like” on Facebook.
Though their live performance was charged with the fire of an unproven act with nothing to lose and everything to gain, some of that force falls limp in their CD. Playing through a set of speakers, away from the rocking crowd and dislodged from the easy fit of the band to the Coffeehouse, Tall Heights is not what they were live. At times, their vocals come off at whiney on the EP, and you have to be in a very particular and mellow state of mind for the music to make its true impact.
There is little published about Tall Heights and no telling how high they will rise in their careers, but last Friday night they filled the Coffeehouse to the brim with promise. The fact that their album falls flat is almost encouraging. In a day and age when auto-tune reigns supreme and overproduction makes artists pop on CDs and flop on stage, Tall Heights seems to have turned the tables. If they keep rocking the scene the way they did in the Coffeehouse last Friday night, this will not be the last time you read about them.