I’ll be up-front: A former editor of mine recently nicknamed me “one-trick pony” for my repeated coverage of the indie rock band Hippo Campus. He had a point: Thursday marked the group’s third concert in Madison since September, when they performed as an opener for Benjamin Booker. Less than two months later Hippo Campus returned, headlining with songs off their latest EP South. By Thursday’s show at the Majestic Theatre, this one-trick pony was worried the Minnesota-based band wouldn’t be able to engage the audience without the nauseating feeling of deja-vu. However, Hippo Campus managed to electrify the crowd, with help from two opening acts.
The members of the local band Disq looked like they could have hopped on stage after finishing up a final. The self-described “lofi rock duo” may be in their late teens or early 20s, but seemed to master guitar skills well beyond their age. Lead guitarist and singer Isaac De Broux-Slone and bassist Raina Bock were backed by drummer Quinn Mattson and guitar/keyboardist Zoe Dennis. Disq catered to the mainly high school and college student crowd with lyrics referencing Wisconsin, relationships and breakups, engaging the exponentially growing audience as awkward head bobbing turned into dancing.
By Riothorse Royale’s first song, it was the clear second opener brought a very different vibe than the heavy rock beats of Disq’s set. Members of the Los Angeles-based indie pop group Emily Greene and Madi Diaz grabbed the crowd’s attention through their almost mystical performance. Their slow tempo and occasional Lana Del Rey airy-style singing mixed with the pulsing red lights were hypnotic until they finished off their set with a more upbeat song, preparing the crowd for Hippo Campus.
Now, being a one-trick pony isn’t all bad. It means I get to follow the band as they continue to tour and produce new music, tracking them like a 40-something dad follows his fantasy football team. Six months back during their first headline show in Madison, Hippo Campus didn’t fill up the Majestic until the start of their set. Even during the middle of finals week on campus, the room was nearly packed well before the band walked on stage. The group is made up of four young twentysomethings: lead singer and guitarist Jake “Turntan” Luppen, guitarist Nathan “Stitches” Stocker, bassist Zach “Espo” Sutton and drummer Whistler “Beans” Allen who all met in school at the Saint Paul Conservatory For Performing Artists.
One of my prouder moments last week was definitely not the grades I got on my final exams, but instead seeing how into the concert my roommate became as Hippo Campus performed. Throughout the show we choreographed dance moves to the upbeat tempo of the song “Close To Gold” as the young crowd around us took an endless string of Snapchat videos of the performance. While watching a concert through the iPhone screen in front of you is annoying to say the least, I almost couldn’t blame them. Luppen rarely stayed in one place on the stage as he hopped around from the drum stand before playing against bassist Sutton and guitarist Stocker. The band definitely knew how to engage the crowd, as Luppen often leaned over the edge of the stage, swinging his hips in a way that mimics SpongeBob Squarepants in the infamous “bring it around town” scene, while sticking out his tongue as he continued playing an intricate melody on the electric guitar.
Thursday night, I wanted to see if Hippo Campus could bring something new to the table, or rather the stage, this time around. Considering the band released their five-track EP South in early October, I was not expecting new songs at their latest performance. As if the band’s physical energy didn’t steal the audience’s attention, the excitement of several new songs captivated the crowd. By mixing songs off their first two EPs and the unreleased tracks, the fast tempo and colorful guitar riffs had the whole crowd dancing (or in my case awkwardly trying to sync my arms and legs while jumping).
My fear of a repetitive show was nonexistent by the end of the performance, as Hippo Campus ended the concert with their slowest, more dramatic song “The Halocline,” a metaphorical song describing the process of growing up. The theme of the song is representative of the young band—especially the drummer whom I ran into as he rode in a fleet around the Capitol on a Razor scooter before the concert. While my repeated coverage of the band may make me a one-trick pony, it’s clear through the band’s electrifying energy that they won’t meet the same fate any time soon.