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Smallpools showcases supremacy at Legends

| Monday, January 18, 2016

LAUREN WELDON | The Observer

It’s been an hour since Smallpools closed their Saturday night set at Legends, and my ears are still ringing. By the time you read this, they will probably still be ringing. That’s how electric this four-man group out of Los Angeles is.

I was definitely not the only one who went to the concert knowing little about Smallpools: I only recognized “Dreaming” as “that song from FIFA” and was surrounded by students admitting they had never given their 2015 album “LOVETAP!” a full listen.

Surprisingly, the first band who came out with a screaming guitar and wailing vocals was not, in fact, Smallpools. It was Nashville-based Apollo LTD, who opened the show with some songs from their aptly titled EP, “EP.”

Despite the vibrancy of their set, Apollo LTD struggled to draw more than some apathetic head bobs from the audience. The tepid response probably had more to do with the performance than the band itself: The Apollo LTD that pounded out some relatively unimpressive rockers sounded completely different from the Apollo LTD of the recording studio. The studio version had a much smoother sound, vaguely reminiscent of Twenty One Pilots.

Suffice to say, by the time that Smallpools actually walked on stage after a 20-minute set break, the crowd seemed to be applauding as much out of relief as adulation. It didn’t take long for the headliner to reinject energy into the building.

For the uninitiated like myself, Smallpools is best known for their pop-alternative jams: Think an airier Neon Trees, a band hard to listen to without moving around. The band admittedly draws a lot of inspiration from The Killers, even going so far as to mix in a few lines from “Human” into their sonically similar song “Karaoke” during Saturday night’s performance.

Given how Smallpools is still in its infancy (the band was formed in 2013), it’s impressive just how many of the attendees at the concert were very clearly Smallpools fans. “Dreaming” was the band’s 2013 debut single, featured on the “FIFA 14” soundtrack. The band also had music on the season five premiere of “Vampire Diaries” and a promotional video for Snapchat. These successes and the subsequent self-titled EP helped Smallpools shoot out of the gate.

They released their first album, “LOVETAP!,” in March 2015 and spent the rest of the year touring around the world. That gave Saturday’s concert some special significance for the band, with lead vocalist Sean Scanlon thanking everyone in attendance for bringing the band out of “hibernation” after a month-long break since wrapping up their tour in Tokyo.

If they felt rusty, though, it didn’t show.

With the exception of a few slower songs, including a cover of a track from the movie “Drive” and a crowd-pleasing acoustic mash-up of Major Lazer’s “Lean On” and Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me,” the set list was energetic from start to finish. The crowd really got going for the dance floor anthem “American Love” and the “oh”-filled “Mason Jar,” one of the band’s most popular songs on YouTube.

If you’re looking to get into Smallpools, check out the fist pump-inducing “Street Fight.” Honestly, I didn’t hear any true duds Saturday (at least among their original songs), so it would be hard to go wrong sampling any of the songs on their album. That being said, as someone who was really listening to Smallpools for the first time ever, most of their songs were hard to tell apart, and almost all of them seemed designed to get stuck in your head. Basically, if you like one song, chances are you’ll enjoy the rest of them. The challenge for Smallpools with their next album will be to make sure that it’s different enough to be worth a second listen.

But based on Saturday’s performance, it’s hard not to be rooting for them. Scanlon made sure to keep the crowd engaged all night, frequently exclaiming “Notre Dame!” to excited cheers, as well as endearingly making references to the men’s basketball victory over Duke. As the concert was winding down, he even took a mid-song stroll through the crowd. It was the sort of high-energy, intimate performance that is hard to pull off with more widely known bands, but is so much fun to be a part of. The only disappointing aspect of the show was the fact that Smallpools waited to play their most popular song, “Dreaming,” until the very end of the concert. They probably intended it to be a walk-off home run, but it felt more like a tease: get the most anticipated song of the night and then leave.

For fans who stuck around, though, the band was cool enough to do a quick meet-and-greet. Smallpools is clearly looking to build up a relationship with their fans, and, ultimately, it’s that personable nature that makes you hope they’ll finally beat out “killer whales in small pools” for Google supremacy once and for all.

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