Hippo Campus needs more time to find live expression

Indie-rock group plays stellar songs in a less-than stellar manner at the Jefferson


Without a doubt, Hippo Campus will continue gaining recognition, as it is already moving up the ladder on festival lineups.

Courtesy Hippo Campus

Had the intentions of this piece been to write about the kernel buried inside the popped shell of a Hippo Campus track, the essence would have been spent praising Jake Luppen’s ability to stand up for an entire generation on its 2017 first full-length album Landmark. It would have reiterated the lyrics’ uncanny resemblance to an indie-rock spin of Paul Simon or what exactly he meant by “Degenerate, counter-culture, crying socialist / Hip-to-lazed crazed abstractionists / We’re weird, but Lord knows we’re trying,” a line that could merit a fourth-year thesis on why it is one of the greatest lyrics ever written. 

Nonetheless, the strongest factor that determines a band’s potential is their ability to put on distinctive, unique live performances. Nowadays, this factor is completely overlooked due to the age of streaming — a dwindling number of fans actually go out to discover a band in concert. 

Let it be known, Hippo Campus is a great band. “Landmark” and the most recent EP, “warm glow,” foreshadow impending rock stardom and at such a young age, the group is already in the national spotlight. It’s known for filling hazy concerts with both devoted and curious fans who reflect the same kind of enthusiastic, positive vibe mindset that the millennial band sings about. But the indisposed character they brought to their performance Tuesday night at the Jefferson Theater was not what was anticipated and the mellow introduction amongst a roughly 75 percent full space was unfit for the strongly emerging rock band of young twenty-somethings.

By all means, a Tuesday night show in a less than 1,000-person venue is not to be compared to an 65,000-person-strong music festival. No crowd can ever match up to the no-sleep, drug-fueled righteousness of a festival audience. But it is a testament to an emerging band’s legitimacy to approach every show as if Mick Jagger invited them to sing “Satisfaction” and swinging ‘70s Lori Maddox was getting tipsy backstage.

Hippo Campus put on an unsatisfyingly static and half-hearted performance, and for much of this the crowd is to blame. For the life of them, the audience would not fully engage with the music. There was talking and shuffling around within the herd, and this was certainly not a slow-moving concert. Almost all of the tracks Hippo Campus played were upbeat and easy to sing along to. Lead singer Luppen even handed over the mic to fuel the audience’s vocals but the energy was just not there. That said, the fire couldn’t be started without a spark, and the band did not do enough to provide the crowd with the necessary light needed to dance all night long in the dark.

A key moment of the show came toward the end when the band broke into “South,” one of their most popular and body-rocking songs released off the 2015 EP, also entitled “South.” The end of this track — which interchangeably mixes the upbeat chorus and bridge — was undoubtedly the most hysterical moment of the night. Luppen sang along with the jumping audience which was getting increasingly devoted to the show. The band, however, crudely ended the song in the midst of this excitement rather than continuing to play off the energy filling the venue with improvised guitar and drum riffs. 

This was a trend throughout the relatively short set — the band played versions of their songs that were very similar to the studio tracks. While these tunes are quite excellent on their own, the band gave no live expression that could memorably distinguish a live song from a studio song. The four-piece group remained stagnant on stage, rarely jammed out with each other and appeared to be going through the motions.

This is more of a teaching point than a criticism. Without a doubt, Hippo Campus will continue gaining recognition, as it is already moving up the ladder on festival lineups. However, they are merely putting together a discography for themselves and thus have quickly reached the haunted glow of fame. There is definitely room for improvement within their live persona that they will expand upon. But for the moment, as painfully annoying as it is to say, there was little separating their performance Tuesday night from listening to their playlist at home.

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