If you're lucky, one of the best parts of a live show is the opening band. Now, sometimes they just don't compare to the headliner, in which case, the first 30 to 75 minutes of a show are torturous (and easily skip-able). But everyone has to start somewhere, right?
I can name a few opening bands that have become my favorites - Jon McLaughlin once opened/co-headlined with Stephen Kellogg; Shakey Graves opened for Shovels & Rope; Cardinal Harbor for The 92s. And now I'm happy to report that Pinegrove is the newest addition to this list.
It's rare that I will listen to an album on repeat and not get sick of the songs. I've been waking up in the morning, tabula rasa, and find the first notes that run through my head are a clever verse from "Cadmium" or "Size of the Moon".
But let's start from the beginning.
The Ballroom at The Outer Space (slash The Space) is a small bar+venue in Hamden, CT - which is closer to New Haven than anything else, so about 45 minutes from Hartford. I first went there earlier this year to see John Paul White and immediately fell in love with the craft beers on tap (yes, there are two bars) and the small woodsy feel to the whole place. Reminds me of Schubas, which you know is like my home away from home in Chicago. So I knew that a Kevin Devine show would be pretty great at this intimate venue. He even threw it out there that The Outer Space is one of his most frequented spots, which is pretty cool for CT! The stage is small (but raised) but the floor is flat so if you're height-challenged like me, I suggest getting there early enough (or at least be prepared to squeeze your way to the front in between sets). All in all, this is one of my favorite places to catch a show in Connecticut - highly recommend!
Petal was the first opener of the night. A four-piece indie-rock-emo band from Scranton, PA, lead singer Kiley Lotz took the audience through a thirty minute set that included a Talking Heads cover, a surprise band-switcheroo by Kevin Devine and a Pinegrove guitarist, and some emotional banter from Lotz. The other band members include Ben Walsh (drums/guitar), Brianna Collins (bass), and another mystery man on guitar who's name I cannot find. Overall, I wasn't impressed with the vocals, but could hear some potential in the songwriting. I drew similarity to Julien Baker, but less experienced. Crowd seemed into it, but most seemed to be waiting for something else.
And rightly so. Pinegrove is an alternative slash rock slash indie slash country(yep) band from Montclair, NJ whose members on this particular tour were Evan Stephens Hall (vocals/guitar), Zack Levine (drums), Nandi Rose Plunkett (keys/vocals), Adan Feliciano (bass), Sam Skinner (banjo/guitar), and Josh Marre (guitar). Hall stood up there on stage, extremely unassuming, with a yellow t-shirt tucked into his belted jeans and belted out song after song to a crowd who had gotten noticeably younger, louder, and more excited. It was very clear that the majority had shown up for Pinegrove - people were singing along and shouting out song requests all night.
Pinegrove played through most, if not all, of their latest 8-track album Cardinal (2016). They also threw some short ones in there, like "Angelina", from their earlier stuff - found in the compilation album called Everything So Far (2010-2014, released in 2015). Everything So Far has a number of shorter records from various EPs and their self-released album Meridian (2012), like "Need", "Need 2", and "Angelina", which you don't see too much of these days. Going into the show, I knew I recognized the band's name, but couldn't remember if I had seen them before - but when I checked my Spotify playlist a few days later, I found that I had in fact added them to my playlists back in January 2016. Which means...I liked them enough to want to hear them again, BUT clearly wasn't as inspired by Everything So Far as I am by Cardinal. And I'll credit that difference to the live performance.
Everything So Far has a pretty different sound. It is less mature, more gentle, features more banjo and harmonizing, and melodies are less complex. I don't mind Nandi's voice, but I think Evan's voice needs to be the standout. I actually really enjoy the country twist that Hall's voice has - you can hear it in his inflections and at the ends of drawn out notes - just a touch of twang that adds something extra to the normal indie rock sound. Reminds me of The Districts' sound, in a way.
The thing about Cardinal is the unpredictable nature of the melodies and rhythms. Take "Waveform". A slower song, but the dips and up-turns at the end of drawn out notes keep you interested and wanting more. You really get the feel for this in a live performance. Not to mention, the vocals are killer. Another example is in "Cadmium". The lyrics hit on the off-beat and feel weird, but the chorus takes a cool twist as the song gets into a grove. Also a great example of Hall's fascination with words, inflection, and their natural rhythms. [Check out "Recycling" too for an even better example.] My absolute favorite is "Size of the Moon". Did I mention the songs are incredibly well-written? It probably helps that Evan is an avid reader. When's the last time that you heard the word "caravaggio" used in a song? It's pure emotion when Hall sings it, and I love it.
Pinegrove's set was great. High energy, people singing along and dancing. There was just enough witty conversation from Hall to show band personality (which I like), and a few exchanges of nail polish gifts from a fan in the front row. Their songs have a catchy sense of rhythm (shoutout to Zack), and as the set progressed, I knew I was a fan. You can tell immediately when a band has passion - and when that mixes with raw talent, what you get is what I like to call the musicsoul high. Everyone sang along to "Old Friends", which is a talky-sing-a-long reminiscent of The Front Bottoms, and with their closer, "New Friends".
i don't know what i'm afraid of / but i'm afraid one day it'll all fall away //
maybe i read that, but still let's see / if nothing else it's an idle curiosity
I have to say - one of my favorite things is finding an up and coming band that just oozes passion. And Pinegrove is just that. They just wrapped this fall 2016 tour, and will be in Europe from February through March - but I suspect they'll be around plenty in 2017. I can't stress enough how important it is to see this band live!
Kevin Devine has been one of my staple indie rock musicians. I saw him play while on tour for his double album release of Bubblegum and Bulldozer (2013) in Chicago at Bottom Lounge - check out that review for all of the details on KD! This tour was to promote his latest, and probably most political album to date, Instigator (2016). He is very hipster, lives in Brooklyn, and is distinguishable for his voice - with a naturally shaky yet confident vibrato, he naturally fits into the emo vibe but also can knock out the acoustic tune.
The Goddamn Band has a varied lineup but I believe on this night he played with Andy Prince (guitar) and Mike Prince (drums). Somehow they got on a tangent about Jim Carrey on SNL and 80s music (Bon Jovi's "Living On A Prayer" kept popping up throughout the night), but it was entertaining and kept the mood light. The actual set-list included (missed some) "Brooklyn Boy", "Just Stay", "She Can See Me", "Bloodhound", "Instigator", "Magic Magnet", "No Why", "No Time Flat", "Not Over You Yet", "Freddie Gray Blues", "Bulldozer", "Bubblegum", "Daydrunk", "No History", "Redbird", "Cotton Crush", and closed with "Splitting Up Christmas".
I was glad to see another album from KD - and I think this one has a more refined sound. The vocals have more depth but the songs are still rooted in distorted guitars and loud kickdrums.
"No History" is one of my favorites from this album - it has a nice guitar riff and stays true to Kevin Devine the lyricist. What is great about a KD show is that its clear he has made a name for himself in the underground "DIY" community - every opening band thanks him relentlessly for his help and support on their tour. Devine really takes these young bands under his wing when they gig with him. He has good friendships with other successful emo-revival/indie alt rock bands like The Front Bottoms, Julien Baker, and Into It. Over It. As an independent artist (ie - sans major label deal), he is a living example of hard-work and what never giving up on the dream looks like. Even though his radio air time is little to none, Kevin Devine will always have his cult-like following of spirited indie rock admirers to keep him going. Like us!
Think: Elliot Smith; Manchester Orchestra; Into It. Over It.
Think: The Districts; The Front Bottoms; Beach Slang