Documenting a band’s proverbial ascent into the near-iconoclast caste of public perception can be a particularly precarious task – while it’s a well intentioned desire to try and prophesies future (and continued) reverence and prolific-ness, such endeavors can ultimately fall short of their goals (and at times, even hamper). That being said, there are a handful of seemingly generational talents that crop up along the path of music history that beg to be met with equal and just recognition, whether or not such relevance is heightened or lessened by the status and media crazed nature of society at large.
With that flirting-with-figure head status in mind, one such band that has managed to capture hearts and minds of impassioned music listeners as of late is none other than New Jersey’s preeminent garage punk country hybrid, Pinegrove. Touring in support of their second LP (but technically their debut), Cardinal – a record that will undoubtedly land atop many a year-end list – Pinegrove brought their viscerally emotive sound and fury to a supremely enthusiastic Basement East crowd, pining to witness the works of their proverbial paragons of Millennial anguish through music.
In terms of iconoclasm, Pinegrove is a group first, but there is an air of uniquity surrounding front man Evan Stephens Hall – he’s seemingly aloof, but totally amiable when necessary, but never to the detriment of a show. His earnest presentation of the Pinegrove songs makes for an indelible experience for those who not only listen to the music but experience it live as well, as each vacant space between songs in a set find Stephens Hall in a highly ruminative state before inevitably being pulled out of said state by an admiring audience member pining for some sort of acknowledgement. There are moments in which fans so desperately wish to share a moment with Stephens Hall that they take to the most obvious and apparent of icebreakers, such as asking about his choice in clothing for the evening –Stephen Radcliffe merch – to which Stephens Hall was understandably perplexed, but answered in earnest.
So that sets the scene for what is an at times surreal, yet wholly understandable reverence that stands with Pinegrove and the conception of them as a band, but compounding such a fact with their exceptional live set as a whole makes the fascination all the more understandable. Following a heartfelt opening set from Petal, Pinegrove wasted little time jumping into their equally as fervid eight-song set. Opening with “Visiting” off of Cardinal, the set received its first of nearly eight wholehearted sing alongs from the crowd that seemed most inclined to see Pinegrove more than any of the other two bands performing (not to undermine Kevin Devine or devalue Petal), as the ascendant rise of Pinegrove was felt in full force throughout the evening.
With a relatively abbreviated songbook – Cardinal is the band’s “official” debut, their 2015 release Everything So Far merits listening in order to attain the best scope of understanding of Pinegrove’s ascent – Pinegrove took on a flurry of tracks from Cardinal – “Visiting,” “Old Friends,” and “Aphasia” – which left Stephens Hall’s primary guitar with a broken string after “Visiting.” Nevertheless, the band pressed on, as Stephens Hall’s innocently (well-meaning) aloof demeanor further extended his indie-royalty relevance, dangling the idea of connection between band and audience, but by arms length at best.
The band ran through the majority of Cardinal, with their unbridled passion for the songs continually releasing endorphins to bring about seemingly cathartic release which results in audience euphoria. Then Stephens Hall brought the mood back down, innocuously addressing the audience and responding to a request off of Everything So Far with ‘Thank you for your request, we will process it. Meanwhile, we worked hard on this song,’ and the band jumped into “Then Again” off Cardinal.
While the performances from Pinegrove’s set were certainly well regarded and impressive, the most intimate and striking moment from their set came out of the moment in which Stephens Hall took time to address some of the recent (and current) strife that our nation has had the misfortune of experiencing.
So, with that in mind, rather than give the Cliff Note’s version of what Stephens Hall presented to his willful listeners and wrap up the live recap with an attempt at clever witticism, it would likely be of more relevance (pertinence, even) to simply end this recap with Stephens Hall’s sentiments in full, as a pilot light of the hope and necessary role that music retains despite a watershed moment that might seemingly act against an otherwise progressive community – ‘Maybe just one more note – it seems very horrible and entropic and difficult to figure out what to do right now. Localize it as much as possible, which means seeing how to love better – platonically, familially, and romantically. It’s a small challenge to ourselves and I suppose to you guys as well. It’s a start, but I think if we take it seriously we can change. There are people who are being oppressed every day which means that Black Lives Matter, Muslim Lives Matter, science is real, our time on Earth is limited. These truths, these axioms are real: love is real. Let’s try and rally ourselves around that.’