Pinegrove @ The Hug & Pint, 7 Sep

Live Review by Will Fitzpatrick | 13 Sep 2016

It’s heaving in The Hug & Pint tonight. Perhaps it’s the incremental hype built up by Pinegrove’s burgeoning reputation as fine tunesmiths; perhaps it’s a sign of the impact of their recent album Cardinal, following its successful landing on the US-attuned sector of the DIY scene. Either way, there’s a sense of anticipation floating around this cosiest of West End basements, and when the band emerge onstage, they don’t disappoint.

Ears are pricked and curiosity is further piqued by their opening salvo, but it’s Cardinal’s Cadmium that sees the first bout of manic audience participation. Despite the relative calm of the song’s softly-softly verses, the audience join in boisterously – by its explosive, cathartic climax, the front row holds its fists aloft, as ecstatic check-shirted 20-somethings scream the refrain with their eyes closed and their heads thrown back deliriously. The effect is contagious.

Seeming a little taken aback, frontman Evan Stephens Hall offers profuse thanks and modest grins as he absorbs the reaction. Later in the set, an enthusiastic voice in the crowd cheers, “‘Mon the Pinegrove!” which Hall promptly mishears. “Paingrove!” he laughs. “That’s our metal side project.” It's their antithesis, of course – his reedy yet warm vocals are sweetly inviting; in some respects he’s the archetypal frontman of a bookish US alt-pop combo. He’s also an incredible musician and compelling performer, marrying the aesthetics of Americana to the brain-tickling guitar patterns and somtimes-abstract song structures of ‘twinklecore’ emo.

Plenty of bands have straddled the line between these two distinct styles (Bright Eyes, Tim Kasher, half of the Saddle Creek roster) but few have managed to make the two sound like they were always the same genre all along. Everything flows together perfectly, and by the time they get up to Then Again’s gleefully perky chorus, the singalong response sounds positively stadium-sized. Trust us, Pinegrove are destined for bigger things than this, and it’s going to be marvellous.