Myself, and two dear friends decided at about two in the afternoon we’d make the hour long, interstate trek out to River Falls. We’ve all been Hippo Campus fans for some time now, but we missed most of their home shows this winter and have been foraging for any shows close to home this summer before we leave for college and whatnot.
The GPS gives us our last directions, and we pull onto the University of Wisconsin River Falls Campus. There are bright red “FREE CONCERT” signs jammed in the ground, directing traffic to the amphitheater parking lot. A short walk to the amphitheater; a very beautiful set-up nestled in the middle of a wooded area that all three of us agreed had some sort of magical vibes.
We planted ourselves front row, stage left, and waited eagerly. Fans near the front mingled with each other, finding familiar faces from other concerts. If you looked closely, you could catch a certain four band members, Espo (Zach Sutton), Turntan (Jake Luppen), Stitches (Nathan Stocker), and Beans (Whistler Allen), roaming the crowd and chatting.
Looking around at a very eclectic crowd, it was obvious who was there specifically for the band and who was there just for free music, which speaks to the importance of free concert opportunities; so many people are brought together in audiences that otherwise would probably not be together, all due to their communal love and enjoyment of live music.
The band was introduced and the crowd shrieked with excitement as the boys came out onto stage. They started their set with a song that’s not on their Bashful Creatures EP, incredible nonetheless. Jake’s enthusiastic cries of “I still love you!” made his sunglasses slide off his nose mid-song. (note 11/2015: Jake told me the title of the song it “Tidewings” but didn’t mention any plans for releasing it anytime soon).
They followed the first song by playing a familiar off the EP, “Souls“. As they began, to the right of me I hear a group of girls debating whether they should stand up or not. Soon, everyone is on their feet and dancing. Jake calls on the audience to sing with him, and they’re jamming so hard that Zach loses his hat.
There are a multitude of smiles across the stage throughout the whole show, but I think more people need to understand and appreciate the severity and passion with which Hippo Campus dances while on stage. A lot of bouncing and head banging, hopping around in a circle on one foot, and tons of this awkward, inverted knee move seem to be Zach’s favorites. Stitches takes a number of wide stances, getting low and bobbing to the music. There was also a video of him that surfaced on twitter last night of some very fancy footwork. Jake tends to play off the crowd a lot, engaging in eye contact, smiles, and laughing a bit when necessary. As for Whistler, there’s not much dancing you can really do behind a drum kit, but you can catch him playing so hard sometimes that he pops right out of his seat with every crash of his drumsticks.
(This diagnosis of their sometimes-derpy, but always enjoyable dancing was really just to show how much they love what they are doing).
They played a few slower songs that were said to be on their upcoming release, instructing the audience to find their dance partner; it was a very nice to hear something a little different that their typical rowdy, indie pop/rock jams. During “Sophie So”, Jake tells the crowd, “Alright, let me see those hands, come on!” and the audience begins bouncing in unison, hands waving excitedly—the ambiance was sort of festival-like.
Fan-favorite based on the screams heard when the song was introduced, “South” had everyone letting loose; the audience as much as the band really got into this one. They ended their set with “Sula”, another early favorite. I had never heard this one live besides an acoustic rendition at the Electric Fetus in-store performance, and was very, very impressed. They left the stage hurriedly and the audience waited, fans still cheering. there was one song, the title track, off their Bashful Creatures EP they hadn’t played, and everyone knew they’d come back.
A minute later, the band runs back onstage, they had shed a few layers, all down to t shirts now, and it began. Jake took precaution saying there were bad words in this song, the crowd cheered. He said “No, bad words are bad!” and began playing. When the expletives came, the audience eagerly filled them in for him. When it came time to say goodbye, there were a few bows, two curtsies, and one happy little foot pop.
Afterwards they come out and generously met a ton of fans, signing merch, taking pictures, carrying good conversations. We met them for the second time in person and I was surprised at how well they recognized and remembered us. I do own a token from Jake and Zach’s youth that we’ve bonded over, so that could explain that, but they seemed to remember a lot of the fans once they started talking to them, and that’s really nice to see; a band connecting with its fans, staying humble. It’s immediately recognizable that they’re whole-heartedly in this because they really, truly want to be. Thanks Hippo Campus for a great night.
(This was originally published on The Local Current Blog and this is the full, unedited version of the review.)