bambi: a hippo campus show review

concerts can fall into many categories; they can introduce you to new music or help you connect to the songs you love in a completely different way. hippo campus’s show at the college street music hall in new haven, connecticut more than delivered on both fronts, pleasing longtime fans and likely engaging new ones as well.  

the excitement was visible immediately upon arriving at the venue, with clusters of fans bundled in heavy coats, eagerly waiting to rush through the doors.  some fans had been waiting in line for more than five hours, just in the hopes of getting as close to the action as possible. once the doors opened, there was a frenzy to get to the front, with people packing in the pit as tightly as possible as they tried to get a good view.  before hippo campus came out, opening act the districts, an alternative rock band based in philadelphia, hit the stage and immediately raised the energy of the room. it can be tough as an opening act to fully engage the crowd in your performance, but the districts seemed to have no problem getting the crowd hyped and ready for the show.  their performance of “salt” was wrapped in an inescapable energy, so much so that standing on the floor, watching their set, you couldn’t help but join the many yelling ‘why does it taste like salt?’. their high energy set was punctuated with stage diving and excited cheers from the crowd, making it the perfect start to the night.

hippo campus is currently touring for their sophomore album “bambi” that holds onto their classic lyrical complexity while simultaneously introducing new sounds and a new era.  though it’s easy to fall into a sophomore slump with a second album, hippo campus maintained the qualities about their music that originally drew fans in but also brought in bold new sounds and approaches that kept their sound dynamic and fresh. the indie rock band brings a vibrant yet thoughtful energy in all of their music, and that energy was only amplified during the live performance. the set began with the album’s lead single, “bambi” which deals with losing control over yourself emotionally, and trying to regain the strength needed to deal with that loss. hippo campus especially shines in their ability to deliver heavy subjects through a lighter, more upbeat medium. although “bambi” deals with the difficulty of trying to simultaneously understand and manage mental health and relationships, it does so set to a lively mix of synth and instrumental tracks that created a bold and inviting introduction to the show.  

“bambi” was followed by “little grace”, which features an undeniably uptempo, exciting vibe. the song was a recent addition to the setlist, so fans were pumped to experience the older track again.  the guys themselves seemed excited to be performing the track, with bassist zach sutton jumping around so much, he could have started a one man mosh pit. on that note, i think there is something to be said for an onstage presence that’s just as appealing as the music itself.  zach and fellow guitarist nathan stocker were constantly dancing and moving with the music to the point that if every video taken at the show had no sound, they would still be thoroughly entertaining. but really, the entire show had a kind of vibe that made everyone in the room feel as though they were getting the chance to be apart of something amazing just by attending the show.  there’s something freeing about being able to vent frustrations with yourself and the world under an umbrella of optimism. in fact, one of the most energetic moments of the night was at the start of “doubt” when the entire crowd found an oddly wonderful excitement in getting to cheer ‘so sweet, but she’s a little f*cked up,’ because, who isn’t?

the show took a more emotional turn around “bubbles” and “why even try” which both deal with trying to reconcile the collapse of a friendship.  both tracks question if there’s any point in reconciling, because the loss might be painful, but as “why even try” explains, ‘i can’t go back now, so why even try?’.  “why even try” made a soft transition to “monsoon”, and immediately a knowing silence fell over the crowd as the song began. there were few moments throughout the night when the room held a steady quietude, but “monsoon” evoked the most powerful instance of this.  this performance was one of the most impressive to watch in terms of the interaction between the band and the crowd: there was a tangible and shared sense of acceptance, which became a common theme threaded throughout the entirety of the show. each member of the band seemed to handle the track with gravitas, momentarily trading in their high energy stage presence for a gentler moment of reflection.  

as the show progressed, acceptance continued to be a prominent theme.  the room’s energy heightened with the repetitions of empowering and tenacious mantras that seemed to unite the crowd. there is nothing quite like joining in the deafening recitation of ‘i'll be fine, i'm alright, it’s my body / gonna stick to my guns, like you taught me / holy hell, i can tell that you hate me / dying moon, keep me up, keep me waiting’.  

during “way it goes” and “golden”, the audience was able to fully experience lead singer jake luppen’s impressive vocal range. there were times when he would hit high notes so delicate that it felt as though he could make any song sound transcendent. but in all honesty, there were moments like that for every member. during “no pomegranates”, nathan stocker exhibited incredible rough and bluesy vocals that simultaneously stood out from the band’s typical sound but also blended in perfectly. it would be easy to talk about each individual member’s showcase of skills at the show, but that could easily turn this review into a full length novel.

the show ended with a performance of the band’s wonderfully brash “violet” which featured a healthy amount of headbanging, entrancing riffs, and an overwhelming amount of passion from every member of the band. what stood out the most during the performance was the unwavering energy in the room throughout the night. there wasn’t a moment when the audience was disengaged, everyone’s attention captured from beginning to end. between zach sutton’s deep basslines and killer dance moves, whistler allen’s bold beats that shook the venue, decarlo jackson’s melodic trumpeting, nathan stocker’s unmatched headbanging and jake luppen’s ethereal vocals, hippo campus puts on an electrifying show that is not to be missed.