by Joel Greatbatch
The Sidewinder is either a particular snake winding its way through the desert, a missile launching off Tom Cruise’s jet wing in the conclusive battle of Top Gun, or simply one of Austin’s many respected rock venues. It was at The Sidewinder that Pinegrove, Sports and Half Waif stopped off on their busy tour of the US to delight a crowd of faithful followers.
When the opening trio of Half Waif began their set of celestial music the crowd was a respectfully quiet one, letting the band play their soft and loud dynamics without ignoring them by loudly chatting to their friends while swigging a beer. A large crowd turned up early and were genuinely taking in their exotic sound. This was a three piece of synths, bass and drums and displayed a nice mixture of ornate vocals, inventive bass lines and a great balance between the acoustic and electric drum pieces. Lead vocalist Nandi Rose Plunkett showed great emotion as she sang each note and it was a joy to be a part of.
Half Waif was followed by four piece indie outfit Sports, which might make some ponder whether they would be a motley group of sport lovin’ dudebros, or a thriftstore frequenting band with indie poprock sensibilities. Thankfully it was the latter, with their effortless brand of jangly surf guitars, ear piercing distortion pedals, and a guitar slinging pretense-less singer. She also had her cellphone sitting in a front pouch on her top, explaining that she accidentally filmed a trip through Walmart earlier and thought that it would be better if she repeated it but facing a responsive crowd.
It was after these two fine openers that Pinegrove graced the stage, and it revealed to me that the trio of Half Waif were also the keyboardist, bassist and drummer for Pinegrove. Those three were obviously prepared for a tour which involved double the work at every gig. The large crowd during the opening sets had now become an even bigger one, with three quarters of the gatherers now shoulder to shoulder. With the stage outside on a baking Austin night this wasn’t particularly comfortable. But the audience wouldn’t be too bothered when Pinegrove frontman Evan Stephens Hall gave his greetings and the band began their set. I’ve been to a few Austin gigs now, but the crowd that was watching Pinegrove were one of the most dedicated I’ve seen yet, a true fan base of the band. The relatively young people around me were singing along to every word, cheering when they heard the first chords of each song they recognized (which was all of them).
With keyboardist Nandi Plunkett on backing vocals she merged her tones well with Evan’s, and of course every other instrumentalist on stage brought their instruments together as one. The crowd’s thankful response at the end of one song had Evan commenting “this is wild,” and they weren’t done yet. Having three guitars playing at once can make a mess but as Evan introduced “a new song” there was a perfect placement with cool muted guitar riffs bubbling underneath each other and an exuberant guitar solo to top it off. Another feature of the “new song” I enjoyed was letting the drums and bass have their moments, dropping out to just the rhythm section and letting the song breathe. It was a great song and hopefully one that is eventually recorded. But it was the new album first track “Old Friends” that got the biggest singalong of the night.
While musically the band have a slight alt-country sound, with lightly overdriven guitars and even some lapsteel thrown in, the overall feel that came out of Pinegrove is one that might be gingerly tagged with the thorny “emo” description. But it wasn’t glammed up and decadent like those that gave it a bad name, this was honest music to the core, music that reinforces to those in the audience that true emotion and art can go hand in hand.
The night finished off with the album’s closing track “New Friends,” which had climactic energy from both sides of the stage and the frontman saying “We do thank you for your enthusiasm. This has been cool. Please look out for each other.” So it was appropriate that the final song was “New Friends” because Pinegrove weren’t just making new friends, they were bringing their founded friends even closer.
Don’t forget to also check out Joel’s interview with Pinegrove
Joel Greatbatch is a Kiwi, but please don’t eat him.