With last year’s Cardinal, Pinegrove created a rare debut you feel compelled to tell everyone who is willing to listen to you about. This is evident by the countless live sessions on YouTube and the hundreds of thousands of views that they’ve racked up, some with a full live band, others with a few members performing acoustically in settings like a forest or bedroom. It’s as a live band where it becomes most abundantly clear that Pinegrove are the kind of special that is once in a generation. They might be one of the few bands currently going where the release of a live album not only makes sense but is actually something worth getting excited about. Having missed them when they rolled through town last year, I was eager to catch this performance. To not have seen Pinegrove live, feels almost to have not experienced them properly at all.
My suspicion that this is the case is proven right almost immediately, when they open with an impassioned rendition of ‘Visiting’. The crowd carrying the song by bellowing out a call and response as the song moves into the slow build of its second half.
As a live unit, Pinegrove are simultaneously phenomenally tight but also incredibly loose, able to slow down the tempo and drag out bars of music like a stretched elastic band, before suddenly pinging it back in order to emphasise certain parts. ‘Aphasia’ is one of the songs that particularly benefit from this playing style, the build up to the central hollered line: “But If I can’t have you then I’ll go underground” is drawn out so when it hits, it’s with the emotional and cathartic weight of a ton of bricks. Lead singer Evan Stephens Hall’s voice is equally as elastic as the band itself, able to lead the melodies down unexplored paths each time they come around while still managing to retain their identifiable shape. Other songs are revitalised with new twists; including the rootsy, Americana stomp of ‘Angelina’ which is transformed into a mathy, slightly disco rhythm.
Hall’s energy is infectious and the audience is maybe a bit too enthusiastic in their response, causing Hall to remind the crowd to make sure they look after each other and respect those around them. One fan doesn’t exactly take the message on board and attempts a crowd surf. Hall reluctantly points out that maybe the people he’s jumping on might not be super keen on him doing that. “These songs are about learning to be a better person and treat people better” he explains, “and the last place I would hope people would feel unsafe would be at a Pinegrove concert”. It might feel a bit like a teacher chastising an unruly student, but it comes from a place of genuine sincerity and a desire to foster community and care between human beings.
A new track, which has never been performed live, gets an airing and Hall seems slightly apprehensive of how it’s going to go down. But he needn’t worry. The new song, for the time being entitled ‘Rings’ brings together all the things that Pinegrove does so well into one song, the complex composition, uplifting melody and intelligent but also warm and emphatic lyrics.
With the hyped up crowd overzealously heckling song requests, it feels like Pinegrove are used to handling responses to their sensitive and delicate songs. “This feels crazier than usual,” Evan Hall comments about halfway through, but you get the sense he isn’t sure whether this is a good or a bad thing. By the end, I like to think, Brighton has won Pinegrove over. They come out for an encore but confess they don’t have anything prepared in advance, having already peddled all of their wares. Someone jokingly suggests Smash Mouth, which results in an audience lead rendition of the early noughties hit ‘All Star’. “I feel like we were almost chorused into that,” Hall jokes afterward. “You’re very persuasive”.
That they are such an incredible live band is only half of what makes a Pinegrove show so unforgettable. Hall describes how fans have come up and told him they’ve made new friends at Pinegrove gigs because of the special feelings of connection that their music fosters. The music is simply a conduit for this much larger, more essential, goal: to feel empathy and care both for those you know and those you don’t.