2018 has been a big year for Hippo Campus to say the least. From releasing their sophomore album to announcing a packed tour cycle for 2019 that encompasses everywhere from Arizona to Australia. It was the year I could finally tell friends from class “I’m seeing Hippo Campus this weekend,” and instead of receiving a blank stare or “who?” in reply, they would say “Oh I love that band!” Like the themes of their 2018 release Bambi, this year was one of progress, anxieties, and a euphoria that mimics the stressors and pleasures of adolescence for the band. But Hippo Campus finished the year strong with a complete U.S. tour that ended in their home state of Minnesota for two sold-out performances at the Palace Theatre in St. Paul. We sent Patsy out with her camera to capture the second night of shows and we think she really grasped that hometown magic and I tagged along (not so delicately flying from Boston to Minneapolis to surprise my friends because what else is there to do over Thanksgiving break?).
Alright, gonna kick things off with a fourth wall break (is that even a thing in reviews?) to let you know this is going to be so biased, seeing as it was my 22nd Hippo Campus show (sorry mom). Listen I like this band. Maybe we’ll say my review is more educated that way? I’m an expert journalist clearly. Regardless of show count, this was the second night at the Palace and somehow, somehow, it was much better than the first. Not pointing fingers at any setlists, or arm-crossed concert goers, but the energy that night was infectious. Even when my little crew and I would goof off dancing terribly to the opener Now, Now, people around us would joke around too and we’d toss awful moves back and forth. You could tell everyone in that room just really wanted to be there – so much one of them would bite a girl for a spot on barricade, but we’ll get to that later.
Hippo Campus opened the set with the gloriously synth-laden “Bambi,” a catchy introspective number that despite being as poppy as something you’d listen to in 2003, deals with conflicting anxieties of someone facing an inward battle, taking a second to look at how it’s affecting the friends around them. “Bambi” has an extended introduction when the band plays it live that’s more atmospheric and the muffled voice of a man interjecting the layered synth. The song climbs and climbs up until the outro signaled by singer Jake Luppen’s attempt to jump in the air; and from there every possible feeling soars into this wrapped ending guided by Decarlo Jackson’s soothing trumpeting, letting us know that for maybe just a little bit the inner battle is over.
It seems like every Hippo Campus song contains multitudes like this, especially those off of Bambi. They’re not lazy songwriters nor instrumentalists something that can’t be matched by every other youngin’ in the music industry. They snuck in one of my new favorites, “Golden,” pretty early on into the set. I feel like “Golden,” epitomized the heart of the two Palace shows with one lyric: “Love from the west / grinning mad, light blue and golden.” Is it actually about Jake and his girlfriend? Yes. Just let me have my moment okay. There’s something so warming about “Golden,” despite its affair of clamoring, beautifully messy guitars and the chaotic yet delicate scattering of cymbals.
The smoothest of transitions rolled “Golden” into “Way it Goes,” AKA the Hippo Campus song that for whatever reason seems to be the soundtrack to every frat guy’s wet dream. I don’t know what it is about “Way it Goes” but it really gets those guys riled up. So firmly over the fragility of Luppen’s falsetto can you hear a bolstering amount of inserted “hey hey hey’s!” from the corner of the audience sporting Patagonia jackets and Hawaiian shirts. Meanwhile, every indie with their shirt tucked in, and jeans rolled up found themselves pushing forward, hopping around or as they would call it “moshing.” But if that’s considered a mosh pit I hope they never make it to a Death Grips show.
Because this was an infamous two-night event, the setlist needed some bulking up. I’m not sure how or why or when or where, but by some miracle Hippo Campus brought back “Poems” off of their debut album Landmark. I’m sure our pestering on Twitter asking for “Poems” had no actual effect on bringing that song back, but hearing “Poems” was a very special moment of the night, even though I couldn’t actually hear it very well over the terrible sound of my friend’s strangled singing (name not mentioned of course, but if you know, you know). “Poems” cooled the crowd down giving the band a good lapse into “Monsoon,” a treacherous piece of music written as a catharsis for Nathan after his sister passed away. It’s a bold and beautiful choice for Hippo Campus to take the time out of their set to always play “Monsoon,” and it never fails to leach empathy from the crowd.
My favorite part of the night, is the part of the night when everyone stares at me for shouting lyrics to a song that isn’t formally out yet. “No Pomegranates,” (title in progress), is a rollicking, frenzied song that’s a complete step out of the Hippo Campus extended universe. Emo lyrics? Check that one off the list as Nathan Stocker questions, “what’s the point in anything?,” but rather than drag you down with their hopeless ambiguity, the lyrics are finger-point, scream-sing approved. If you too would like to learn how to yell along to an indie-as-hell band, you can find a full video of “No Pomegranates” here for your viewing pleasure!
From there, things were a blast. Until BiteGate 2018 happened. Now the details are unclear, but a number of people at the show reported a struggle for barricade between two girls, and then a shout “she bit me!” We’re talking One Direction general admission levels of fighting here. The girl in front squeezed up, and then the girl behind her wrapped an arm around her neck, be it out of spite or not, we’re still not sure. Once the girl in front could no longer breathe, based on other evidence she bit the girl’s arm, and the rest is bloody history. All the while Hippo Campus blindly busted out a very sweaty rendition of “Suicide Saturday” that got the whole of the Palace clapping along.
Hippo Campus ended the night as usual with their fake finale, “Buttercup,” a powerhouse, feel-good anthem that absolutely slams once the chorus drops, echoed by the finale finale “Violet.” It’s always bittersweet when you know there’s just one last song before the night – and the year, is over. But for that last mindless and raggedy 4 minutes and 6 seconds of “Violet,” everything feels alright for once. It’s going to be a bright 2019 for this band and I can’t wait to be there to see it.
You can watch the recorded livestream of the show here: Hippo Campus, Bambi tour, (live from the Palace Theatre for The Current)
Photography by: Patsy Thayieng
Review by: Sam Schraub