The Garage in Highbury Corner plays host to some of the most notorious and legendary artists around. Tonight’s guests have a way to go until they reach the heights of some of their fellow Garage alumni, but on a night like tonight it doesn’t feel that way. From the moment they appear onstage – amidst the ambient, droning, slightly unsettling warm-up music that’s been playing in lieu of the usual indie-rock bangers put on by a London venue – the noise is irrepressible.
It’s a surprisingly mixed crowd. There are your usual types, with cool haircuts, straight-leg jeans and vintage shirts, but there are some outliers too. The folks who are on the slightly older end of the demographic scale, the ones who are probably there to soak up the atmosphere of North London rather than specifically to see the band, and the Americans, who may well be tourists, or may well have flown all the way in to catch Hippo Campus live, because they’re just that dedicated to the boys from Minnesota. All this to say that, as well as being irrepressible and boisterous, the atmosphere from the minute the band take to the stage is also one of warmth. There are no hard feelings, no shouting when someone towards the front gets on her boyfriend’s shoulders, and constant cheers for every song the band knocks out. It feels wholesome, even rather familial, with each song greeted with the usual adulation of a gig crowd, but with a warmer, kinder undercurrent. It’s nice.
For their part, Hippo Campus are impeccable. Frontman Jake is, of course, charming and endearing, leading the crowd in singalongs and giving them just enough patter to keep them wanting more. Lead guitarist Nathan is virtuosic, conjuring immense depth and gravitas or extreme intricacy from his guitar at will. The rhythm section in Whistler and Zach on drums and bass respectively, provide a backbone to proceedings which is solid as a rock, and DeCarlo, the de-facto star of the group, gets the adulation he so thoroughly deserves whenever his dulcet trumpet tones are heard. But what’s impressive about Hippo Campus is their changeability. Their songs are catchy when they can be, intricate when they want to be, and powerful when they have to be, and they’re able to keep the crowd enraptured not just throughout their performance, but in different ways at different times. From Jake coming onstage, hunched over, spending the first few numbers showing off tunes from their newly released LP3 which make them sound like a less depressed, more fun Bon Iver, to ‘Deepfake’, which has everyone in the room chanting like football hooligans. That chameleonic quality is what makes them so watchable, and their sound so listenable.
The classic tunes inevitably get the biggest reactions from the crowd. ‘South’, ‘Way It Goes’, ‘Buttercup’, and ‘Bambi’ are all saved for the latter portion of the night, with the noise level and raucousness in the gaff ramping up accordingly. But the new tunes, from the recently dropped LP3, are warmly received, even if lack of familiarity means not as fervently. A particular standout is relatively deep cut ‘What To Now’, which sees Nathan take on lead vocals, and whose thrumming, pounding guitar and bass riffs coupled with the popping drum line evokes New Order or Joy Division before them, and which sounds just as good live as you think it would.
From the diversity of the crowd to the diversity of the band’s sound, and the boyish charm of the band themselves, tonight feels a bit rag-tag. But that’s no bad thing, it just ads to the charm of it all. As the band says goodbye after the final notes ring out, there’s a sense that there really is no where anyone would rather be, or anything they’d rather be doing. And everyone’s hoping it won’t be three years before they can do it again.