Depending on what type of person you are, Hippo Campus are either a crew of lovable hometown teens with a charming Afrobeat sound, or they're the underage offspring of Bow Wow Wow and fun.
Probably, they're equal parts both. The Woodbury-grown recent St. Paul Conservatory for the Performing Arts grads make familiar-sounding indie rock with a sizable dose of smarm, but they're so damn good at it that you can hardly knock them for going all out. That's really all that matters when it comes to filling the 7th St. Entry with amped-up teens on a Saturday, and Hippo Campus proved that they were fully up to the challenge.[jump] Last night's show was a celebration of the self-release of Hippo Campus's Bashful Creatures EP, and it had them in full celebration mode, looking almost psychotically confident. Frontman Jake Luppen's rock-star facial expressions seemed well-practiced, and it paid off. He looked like a young Damon Albarn -- smiling like an idiot and bopping his head like he was bringing down the Cavern Club. His and the rest of the band's moves were so frustratingly perfect -- from the coordinated grins to the choreographed air-drum fills.
Hippo Campus Are Waking Up Twin Cities Indie Rock
Luppen had a habit of calling his songs "numbers": "This is a dance number;" "This is a rock number;" "This is a slow number." They all sounded like mid-tempo indie pop, but the ambiguity was fun and added to the "budding hometown legends" vibe. For the most part, everyone in the room knew the words to every song.
This self-assuredness is what made Hippo Campus so exciting. They never once doubted their capacity to toss out a banger. Luppen treated each one like a recognizable hit, and the crowd was more than happy to oblige him. Separate from its context, the banter might've seemed forced ("You guys feelin' good?" "yeeaah!" "It feels good, right?"), but Luppen and co. played off the energy in the room so well last night that it ended up charming.
"Suicide Saturday" was just one of many suburban indie highlights on a set made up of mostly recognizable material -- cuts from the EP on the first half and live favorites on the second. "Bashful Creatures" itself ended the first half, starting out with pretty guitar interplay between Luppen and co-guitarist Nathan Stocker before swelling into an all-out sing-along. The previously mentioned "rock number" was the highlight of the second half, with Luppen channeling something like an unacknowledged inner-Springsteen and the rest of the group playing like an honest-to-gosh rock band.
It's that sort of earnestness that makes Hippo Campus work. They may know exactly what to do with a room of screaming fans, but they're still durn-chuffed by it. "We're just really humbled and blessed," Luppen beamed at the standard "two songs left" intermission. The "awwwwwwwwwwws" started before he could finish saying "thank you."
The only time they seemed to look remotely unsure of themselves was on their encore. It wasn't their first encore ever, but it might as well have been for all their self-conscious bluster. Bassist Zach Sutton did a sarcastic rah-rah fist shake, and drummer Whistler Allen took the opportunity to take a cellphone video.
For a second it looked like they didn't know quite what to do. Then Luppen shouted, "What do you guys think we're gonna play?" and the kids shouted back "South! South!" like they knew exactly what they were gonna play, and then they played "South," because of course they were gonna play it, and it sounded perfect and rehearsed and great. Even the sweat dripping from Luppen's face gleamed immaculately.
Personal Bias: As much as the music-douche in me hates to see suburban indie kids making extraordinarily competent suburban indie music, there's something undeniably heartwarming about a roomful of suburban indie kids cheering along to a song called "Suicide Saturday" like it's the number one song on the suburban indie radio. Part of me feels like the perfected enthusiasm is too much, but most of me hopes that they keep on living their charmed rock star lives. Along with opener Allan Kingdom (who put on a similarly confident show) and Hippo Campus, it seems like a pretty good time to be a teen in the Twin Cities. I think I'm just jealous. I wish I were still a teen.
The Crowd: All teens.
Overheard: Enthusiastic teen - "They're just so, so - unreal, actually!"
Random Notebook Dump: All the people around me [teens] are talking about sexting.
The Opener: For a minute last night I thought Hippo Campus was going to be outshined by "surprise" opener Allan Kingdom. Fresh off a sold-out national tour with the Stand4rd and acting the part, Allan rapped through his A$AP Mob patois like an actual member of A$AP Mob and led the not-very-hip hop crowd through the obligatory hands-in-the-air arm motions. "Wavey" was beautiful (even without the Spooky verse), but "Evergreens," with its Kendrick-style self-empowerment chorus, was the real banger. Allan's voice is lovely to listen to, and his ability to slide between rapping and neo-soul cooing is evocative of another Canadian-born hip-hop transplant. He looks 100 percent ready for the national fame that might be coming to him.
GIMME NOISE'S GREATEST HITS