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Tilly and the Wall Give Indie Rock a Tap Edge

by Rachel Levin
July 10, 2008
The Echoplex
1154 Glendale Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026
213-413-8200
I think I've found my new dream job: to be the percussionist for indie pop band Tilly and the Wall. This is no ordinary percussionist beating rhythm on a series of drums. No, this is a bona fide tap dancer in purple footless tights and a tiered, mimosa-hued tulle skirt that bounces as she drives the band's beat with nothing more that her feet. Could there be a more jubilant way to make a living?

The tap-dancing percussionist, in this case Jamie Williams, is a revelation whose time has come. In the musical universe created by Tilly and the Wall, it just makes sense. The band hails from Omaha, Nebraska, and blends corn-fed wholesomeness with jamming, richly layered rock. Think girls in frocks with tattoos. At their show at the Echoplex tonight, the stage was decorated with white balloons, and white silk flowers snaked up the mike stands, lending a country fair feel to the scene. There's a drumset on stage, but it's hardly used. The band is more likely to break out folksy instruments like the glockenspiel and tambourine. In this eclectic soundscape, tap shoes figure in perfectly.

Situated on an elevated box at the center of the stage, Williams has a homespun quality to her tapping. She knocks out precision time steps while waving her arms spastically. She's not trying to be a cool cat or channel any tap greats. The lower half of her body stamps out the time signature; from the waist up, she's merely an exuberant back-up singer and cheerleader.

The group seems to appreciate that, ironically, their loyal indie rocker constituents aren't necessarily the dancing types—they're more prone to mere head bobbing. But at times during the show, the band dispensed with their rock instruments and let the keyboardist unleash a synthesized dance groove. Williams, along with the two female lead singers, frolicked onstage, encouraging just plain dancing. At the end of the number, one of the singers said, "Thank you for dancing," a polite acknowledgement that though dance is the central driving force to the act, it's something the audience must be prodded to do.

Yet Tilly and the Wall is at its best when it isn't too self-conscious about the dance aspect and simply rocks. Luckily that cavalcade of taps saves Tilly from veering into generic college rock territory. It adds such a depth and distinctiveness to their well-crafted songbook, at times conjuring a Moorish flamenco quality and at others a bit of roots Americana. You might even say they've "tapped" something extraordinarily unique.

For more information, visit tillyandthewall.com
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