All words: Jesse Young — All photos: Joy Asico
It’s odd mix of emotions when you see high school-aged kids at a show. First, their general presence is objectively and inarguably irritating. Second, they’re a reminder of the fact that you yourself weren’t nearly as cool when you were their age (at least in my case). Was I out at shows on Wednesday night when I was 15? Doubtful.
Also, I think a small clique of kids up in front was mocking the fact that I was wearing (tasteful) earplugs during the show (aural safety first, you guys). Kids these days, amirite. No respect.
The point being: Grouplove pulls in a crazy young crowd these days. Getting your song in an iPod ad probably doesn’t hurt when it comes to that demographic, and the packed house last night reaffirmed the fact this band is very much in the process of blowing up.
Reptar opened the show with a surprisingly subdued and poorly-mixed set. Last I saw them, they were playing a cramped and gloriously sweaty showcase at the Gibson Guitar Showroom, a whirling four-man dervish of nervous energy and spitfire riffage. Onstage last night at the 9:30, they were all but swallowed up by the venue, inadequate to the scale of the event and unable to find the crowd’s rhythm.
As far as I’m concerned, Reptar’s first and best destiny is as a clever dance rock outfit, infusing indie pop with a syncopated reggae-hued sensibility – think Vampire Weekend without the obnoxious collegiate pretentiousness. Last night, however, the band favored the slightly more challenging material from its new album, Body Faucet. Songs were frequently punctuated with arty, synthesized breakdowns, their sheer cacophony occasionally recalling Wilco on tunes like “Rainbounce.” Instead of curating a dance party (they avoided playing “Stuck in My Id”), the band opted for a more cerebral presentation. Interesting, yes, but less satisfying.
I’ve got to credit my friend Artie with the spot-on observation that everyone in Grouplove looks they belong in another band. Vocalist Christian Zucconi belongs in Blind Melon circa 1992, what with his cheery hippie mien and ratty thrift store aesthetic. Guitarist Andrew Wessen looks to have escaped from Megadeath in the late 80s, while bassist Sean Gadd could easily fill in as one of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s innumerable bearded and behatted members. Vocalist and occasional keyboardist Hannah Hooper is generally just an adorable presence, and I very much hope to one day be her best friend/life companion/back-up dancer.
The band manages to gin up an admirably big sound while relying almost entirely on the classicist instrumental axis of guitar/bass/drums. Their live sound is warm and expansive: for all their winning aw-shucks earnestness, they’re completely committed to sweeping every song into a hoarsely-shouted anthem. “We don’t know what to say/So everyone’s gonna get high,” Zucconi sung early in the set, and the crowd roared in agreement.
Grouplove can also ably harness the darker moments in its catalogue: “Gold Coast,” from their debut EP, inverted their sunny California brand of pop-rock to truly spooky effect. “Time” – with a jaw-dropping lightshow augmenting the song’s stop-start crescendo – was a moody, theatrical setpiece that would have done Evanescence proud (without any of their plodding awfulness).
While “Tongue Tied” was plugged into the encores for maximum cathartic effect (that of the aforementioned iPod ad), it wasn’t that song that embodied the best that Grouplove had to offer last night: instead, it was a brief, frenzied cover of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” that captured the band’s appeal so concisely. Joined onstage by Reptar (who busily littered the stage with rolls of toilet paper and bouquets of plastic flowers), Grouplove treated the song as a primal scream of communal joy. For a moment, everyone stopped trying to be cool and just sung along. Even the jerky high school kids up front.