Concert review: Hippo Campus gets crowd on its feet with upbeat setlist, impressive vocals
Hippo Campus lead vocalist Jake Luppen sang songs from the band’s newest album, “Bambi,” as well as older tracks from their discography, which includes two other EPs and another full-length album. (Kanishka Mehra/Daily Bruin)
Hippo Campus: Bambi Tour
Friday, Feb. 4
Feb. 2, 2019 4:14 p.m.
This post was updated Feb. 3 at 2:25 p.m.
Energy levels at the Bambi Tour were as high as the lead vocalist’s falsetto.
Indie rock band Hippo Campus released their second full-length album, “Bambi,” in September of last year and are currently on a six-month tour around the world. The five-member band took the stage at The Novo on Friday night to perform 18 songs, two of which are currently unreleased. Hippo Campus strutted, jammed and sang their way through the set in a vocally impressive show that will live on in many people’s memory – specifically in the hippocampus.
Before the main act, a duo named Now Now greeted the crowd. After the awkwardly short welcome, lead singer Cacie Dalager broke into song and dance – or what could plausibly be interpreted as dance. With the backtrack playing louder than her live vocals, Dalager stiffly bounced her way through some of the band’s catalogue. Occasionally she and some hired band members enacted cheesy choreographed dances together, further emphasizing the band’s uncomfortable stage presence and making the performance painful to watch.
But their set soon ended and Hippo Campus quickly transformed the bad vibes of a karaoke-level opener into a proper concert. Lead singer and guitarist Jake Luppen entered in a black jacket, a red scarf and a baseball cap as the band began playing the eponymous track from their latest album. Aided by shifting purple, blue and orange lights – a staple throughout the show – the band’s stage presence and wide-ranging vocals revived the crowd.
After two more songs, Luppen removed his scarf and began playing “Baseball,” a 2017 road-trip anthem with a catchy upbeat rhythm. The older song has more indie influences, with lyrics that feel reminiscent of the small-town midwest: “Where’d all our friends go/ We can dip if you’re ready.”
Another of the band’s older songs, “Warm Glow,” came a little later in the set. Featuring Luppen’s signature falsetto and a slow, heavy drum beat, the song was one of the standout moments of the show. As lead guitarist and vocalist Nathan Stocker sang the repeating verse of the song’s ending, Luppen layered over him with piercing falsetto vocals that proved the band could sing live without a backtrack – Now Now should have taken notes.
Hippo Campus then transitioned into “Monsoon,” a slow jam that elicited lit-up phones around the venue. The two calm songs set a serious tone, but Luppen quickly rebuilt an upbeat mood again with an announcement between songs.
“Lebron James is in the house tonight. His favorite song is ‘South,’” he said. “This one goes out to Lebron James.”
“South” captured the band’s more indie roots through growling vocals and distinct lines such as, “I walk the same way my father told me/ Back straight, chest out, just like a soldier.” They then moved into “Simple Season,” another chill beach song that also makes audiences bounce along, or in the case of one teenage boy, bang his head like he was at a rock concert.
The lights on stage then faded out until just the drummer, Whistler Allen, was illuminated in pink lighting. He performed an emotionally powerful love song unofficially titled “Chapstick,” a still-unreleased song that the band first performed at a concert in January. Allen, who normally sings backup vocals, took the lead for most of the newer number, which helped showcase the band’s overall vocal talent.
Following the song, Stocker sang another unreleased song unofficially known as “No Pomegranates,” while the stage was flooded in shades of green – the only time the lighting effects departed from the blue, purple, pink and orange theme. The change in color brought extra attention to the performance and created a refreshing new sight to accompany the song and enhance the experience.
The rock aspect of Hippo Campus’ indie-rock genre made its full appearance in the track, with Stocker singing “Take away everything/ I am just the one in search for songs to sing” over intense instrumentals. The upbeat, aggressive song brought a lively energy that starkly contrasted with the more relaxed nature of their indie songs. It also brought the mood to a nightly high even though most of the audience was unfamiliar with the song.
The band’s performance of “Bubbles” began softly with minimal instrumentals, but the middle of the song was flooded with chaotic energy and an abundance of loud noises – with the dueling musical sounds forming an apt representation of the concert as a whole. Needless to say, the head-banging teenager found his niche in the bridge.
The band played two more songs, “Suicide Saturday” and “Violet,” before wishing the audience goodnight and exiting the stage. However, the lights did not turn on, and attendees quickly picked up on their cue to chant “one more song” until Hippo Campus made its grand return for an encore. Though the pre-planned encore always tends to feel tasteless, they played it off well – Luppen and Stocker had even removed their jackets as if they weren’t planning on coming back out that night.
The final song, “Buttercup,” was the perfect song to end the night on, with its catchy rhythm and chorus leaving the audience with an earworm to hum on the way home. Though Hippo Campus rarely stopped to talk to the crowd, their song-packed set was diverse enough to reel the audience back in after the opening act left so much to be desired.