Taking the stage at 7:45—15 minutes behind schedule—Hippo Campus, a rising St. Paul, Minneapolis, indie-rock quartet, cut to the chase and played one of its more recognizable songs: “Way It Goes,” off its 2017 debut LP, Landmark.
The crowd got energized; the band fed off the energy.
And that’s the way it went Saturday evening at the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival. The concertgoers, most of whom were in their early 20s, knew the songs, singing and dancing along. The band members, save Whistler “Beans” Allen, who sat behind the drum kit, hopped about like Mexican jumping beans. The weather stayed cool and clear.
Frontman Jake “The Turntan” Luppen, sartorially resplendent in a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” T-shirt, sang to the back rows; heck, he sang to the folks on Mt. Washington, his tenor never knuckling under the strong yet balanced instrumentation.
One earlier song, “Epitaph,” added a transfixing reverb to Luppen’s voice. The song addressed a woman named Mary, as did the next song, “Poems,” putting the band on track to surpass Springsteen in number of Mary-centric tunes.
“Poems” was more atmospheric, arguably better experienced via headphones, and Luppen nearly acknowledged as much: “Now that we’ve made it through the vibe portion, wanna dance a little bit?” Attendees’ fists pumped “YES!” in the funnel-cake-scented air as the band launched into “Western Kids.”
The Matt-and-Kim-esque “Simple Season” maintained the energy, although it marked the evening’s sole technical difficulty: a little fuzz around the vocals, but nothing terribly distracting.
“Monsoon” slowed things down. The opening line of the ballad—“Just two days after the first of June”—coincided with the date of the show, a coincidence lost on neither Luppen, who smirked while singing the line, nor a few fans, who clapped.
Midway through “South,” the eponymous track off Hippo Campus’s last EP, guitarist Nathan “Stitches” Stocker got to sing lead. Luppen, who was all Pete Townshend windmills and Chuck Berry hops, moved to the side. Zach “Espo” Sutton, meanwhile, slid up and down the stage in rhythm to his bass.
Stage design was minimal, but the backdrop had some pretty nifty, multicolored decals of bridges, which were interspersed around the words “Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.” During faster cuts, like the penultimate “Buttercup,” the stage lights flashed different colors.
Pittsburgh-based Pet Clinic made its hometown proud by playing some grungy headbangers prior to Hippo Campus’s set. If Pet Clinic hasn’t already, headlining shows outside the Steel City should be its next step.
Hippo Campus played a one-song encore, “Violet,” which saw Luppen veering away from the microphone just in time to avoid an expletive, keeping the free show family friendly.
Stocker thanked those attending and those who organized before the quartet exited. One of the organizers, WYEP Midday Host Kyle Smith, earlier introduced Hippo Campus, noting that the band played a Final Friday last year. Two free concerts in two years? Let’s hope 2018 delivers the hat trick.
Photos: Christopher Maggio
Christopher Maggio is a Pittsburgh-based writer and editor and tries to see live music whenever he can.