Studio 2 in Liverpool has seen its fair share of talented artists. As a former recording studio, the small venue has hosted acts from Pulp to The Smiths and even Rihanna. On air this evening were Pinegrove, a band from Montclair New Jersey, with an abundance of talent and one of the best records of the year behind them. In a room where top acts have been practicing their craft for years, this felt like an act who would not let them down.
Someone recently said that listening to a great album feels like being dropped in the middle of a movie; where almost immediately you want to know the whole story, to keep watching and understand how it all fits together. Pinegrove’s recent album Cardinal is like this. If it were a movie, it might be a coming of age one: introspective, intelligent, sad yet uplifting. Lead singer Evan Stephens Hall writes poignantly about the small domestic instances of life in your smallish town: your relationship with old and new friends, and a conversation with your dad. He captures that feeling of navigating through a place you know like the back of your hand, yet also somehow feeling lost.
Pinegrove’s sound lies somewhere between The Hotelier and Cage the Elephant. They create catchy melodies, great pop-rock guitar parts and write lyrics which capture domestic moments, and deal quite honestly with regret and sadness. At times like a diary; at times like a letter to an old friend. The band also has a softer, folkier side, and with Evans’ southern twang, it’s occasionally reminiscent of country – perhaps owing some credit to artists like Townes Van Zandt or Gram Parsons.
Looking like a group of mature college students in tees and flannel shirts, Pinegrove stroll onto the stage. And as soon as they launch into the first song, ‘Visiting.’ the audience are into it. For a young album and band, lots of people are singing along. This is one of the things about Pinegrove, the lyrics are intensely personal but you also have this feeling that you can uniquely connect to them. As they move into ‘Cadmium,’ people are moving about and singing.
It probably helps that Studio 2 is a really small venue. At the front you can almost reach out and touch the band. Plus the dimly lit lamps give it a real intimate feel, and this fits with the Pinegrove sound. Big choruses that are also confessional. To begin with the band are quiet, almost business like. But before too long Evan is talking at length about the lamp on the other side of the room: “It reminds me of this lamp I saw in a shop in Ohio”. In a sprawling, humorous detour, he talks about the weird connect and disconnect of life on tour. It’s endearing, funny, and kind of feels just about right in keeping with the band. Plus he’s also a natural performer, you hold onto each word.
The band are at their best when they’re most melodic, catchy as well as lyrical. Angelina for instance is a beautiful two minute song, just a guitar, a lovely background harmony and lyrics which give a casual moment a lot meaning (“Washing windows with Angelina / I don’t understand anything”). It had the audience swaying from side to side. Or ‘New Friends’ which has a simple chord progression and gives Evan’s voice free rein to unleash. By the emotional final verse the audience is joining in, shuffling around, singing along: “The End of summer / And I’m still in love with her.” Pinegrove – like The Smiths or Bon Iver – give us these moments of real emotional clarity.
Since the band are having such a good time, and the audience are shouting out for old songs, the band play an extended encore of five tunes. They play ‘Aphasia’, ‘Problems’, a mixture of old and new, and finish with ‘The Metronome’. The songs would sound ever better in a bigger venue, around lots of people singing them back to the band, giving them the attention they deserve. It looks like that will be sooner rather than later.