A Pinegrove show is the place to be
Erin McAuliffe | Thursday, September 1, 2016
On July 29 I sat in the dark on a plaid couch with the lead singer of a band I saw perform three times earlier that day. Or technically, the previous day — the packed concert schedule kept the band busy until 1 a.m in the morning.
The singer was Evan Stephens Hall and his band, Pinegrove, had just finished headlining a house show featuring Options, Ratboys, Half Waif and S P O R T S. We sat on a porch above the basement venue where I had chosen to spend my night over seeing Lollapalooza-headlining sets by J. Cole, Lana Del Rey and The 1975. The porch overlooked the backyard strewn with people: the space was routinely swarmed and deserted by festival-goers throughout the night as fans clamored for cool air during set change-overs.
“When you’re energetic and excited you’re also kind of fluent and down to say what you’re thinking unmediated,” Halls said — validating why he’s chosen to sit down for a college media interview well past midnight.
His statement juxtaposed the emotions displayed at Pinegrove’s Lollapalooza set 12 hours earlier, where he was at a loss for words in front of the biggest audience the band had ever played for.
Wavering between speechlessness and prolixity is a theme evident not only in Hall’s statements that day but in lyrics throughout Pinegrove’s February release “Cardinal.”
Album standout “Aphasia” deals with this fractured fluency both in title and lyrics: “So satisfied I said a lot of things tonight / So long aphasia and the ways it kept me hiding / It’s not so much exactly all the words I used / It’s more that I was somehow down to let them loose.”
Hall is down to let words loose when surrounded by familiarity — place serves as an impetus to his eloquence. He recounts his trepidation over a trip to Japan and walking around an unusual town and tries to convince himself that “leaving’s so relieving” by repeating the words out loud.
If “Cardinal” is an album based in place, that place is Montclair, New Jersey. On the track “Old Friends,” Hall croons that he knows his town “grounded in a compass” as he reflects on the familiar sidewalk cracks and dogwood trees nearby.
“A lot of Evan’s words have this descriptive nature about where we grew up,” Pinegrove’s Adan Carlo Feliciano chimed in after sitting down on the couch with us. “I feel like a lot of bands from New Jersey have this intense love for growing up in New Jersey. Walking in parks, being outside — there’s a non-traditional suburban lifestyle there.”
“Cardinal” captures this lifestyle through references to sneaking out onto fire escapes, jamming soul music on car radios and even running into an ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend at the Port Authority Bus Terminal.
“Montclair is so close to New York, we can get there by train. The people are diverse and the scenery is great — it’s the perfect blend of a lot going on and it ignites a really cool artistic spark,” Feliciano continued.
“There a lot of really good songwriters that have come out of Montclair and it’s sorta co-evolutionary. I love Cold Foamers, I love Tawny Peaks. And Guidelines — and Acres!” Hall added.
This collaborative locality seemed to follow the band to Chicago, obvious by their excitement over an audience member’s Tawny Peaks shirt. This audience member turned out to be “Dexter’s” dad and, regardless of the identity of Dexter (still unknown), the appearance echoed a middle school concert with fervently proud family supporters.
To evoke this sense of place and intimacy at a Lollapalooza set on a stage that 19 other bands would play on over the next four days was remarkable. It was a feat supported by fans that belted out relatable lyrics like, “But do you remember when / In your living room / When we made some room and moved ourselves around in it.”
Hall described the effect of that fan fervency at shows: “It’s a very reciprocal experience, always. We try to play to the room. It’s for the people that are there and it’s for us. It’s a relationship.”
Across all the venues the band played on July 28, from a Toyota-branded side stage with an EDM set in earshot to a basement in Logan Square rumored to be Whitney’s practice space, Hall’s remark that Pinegrove plays to the room proved true. As fans belted out lyrics based in living rooms and cars and empty suburban streets, each song became a series of intimate moments and each set was made poignant in place.
“It’s a writerly impulse to include as many details as you know about a place because the more you can include, the more inviting it’s going to be for the listener,” Hall said. “And that way you can persuade them to come along with you on whatever weird journey you want to go on.”
A journey is “the act of traveling from one place to another.” Hall describes many journeys on “Cardinal”: he takes them alone, with friends and with family. Through the resulting lyrics and city-to-city tours (journeys that bands are all too familiar with these days) — he invites us with him.
This was perhaps best embodied by “Marjorie and friends” — some people Hall invited to the basement show after walking alone to a local bar for a Pilsner and talking to a group of friends who had never heard of the band. He invited strangers to take a journey with him and they did.
This is what Pinegrove provides to fans with their music, their generous interactions on Twitter and their live shows — a rare admittance to the journey. Granted, not all fans are groupies following the band from city to city, but attending one Pinegrove show — whether at a music festival or a basement — transports you to many places. And through Hall’s descriptive words, these places seem familiar, relatable, unintimidating. It seems only natural that Pinegrove’s name comes from one such place near in Ohio near Kenyon College, where Hall went to school.
As college students, place can be an intimidating thing. You’re at home, then school, then spending summer in a new city — and this journey is repeated. The scary thing about moving to new places is that you inevitably leave friends behind.
The opening and closing tracks on Pinegrove’s “Cardinal” are titled “Old Friends” and “New Friends,” making the album a socially connective journey. Listening to a socially connective journey doesn’t reach its true potential in the sonic vaccuum created by a pair of headphones, but rather during an intimate show with fans and band belting out “I should call my parents when I think of them / I should tell my friends when I love them.”