When it comes to music, most people like to date around, listening to lots of different artists at once. My relationship with music is generally monogamous. I find an artist whose music I love, and I make a commitment. I’ll listen to an album for weeks at a time until I know all of the lyrics. But this doesn’t happen very often; so when I saw that Pinegrove, one of my most recent loves, was going to be playing at Black Cat in D.C., I knew I had to go. Even though I saw the tickets almost two months in advance, I still bought them immediately — I wasn’t going to miss this.
The show was a part of Pinegrove’s tour on the back of their 2018 album Skylight, their first after their celebrated album Cardinal. Their set included a well dispersed variety of songs off of the new album and songs more familiar to the less dedicated fans. It is also their first tour after they cancelled a tour last year. All this to say, it is an exciting time to be a Pinegrove fan. I had not listened to the new album prior to the concert, so the live version was my first time experiencing many of their newer songs.
Although the crowd was excited for Pinegrove, before the big name of the night took the stage, the band Another Michael played, their first time opening for Pinegrove. The band set a good tone for the night. Even if I wouldn’t characterize it as living on the exact same block as Pinegrove, Another Michael’s music was in a similar world to their emotion driven indie rock, albeit with a somewhat softer touch.
While the audience’s energy was palpable throughout the show, it reached a peak when the band that they had come to see arrived, a peak that would be maintained for the hour and a half or so that the rest of the concert lasted. Pinegrove opened — as you’d hope for a group that inspires such passion — with passion themselves. Much of the energy came from the band’s lead singer and guitarist Evan Stephens Hall, whose relaxed consonants and almost drawling voice is characteristic of a Pinegrove song.
Pinegrove kicked off their performance with new material from Skylight, and from that, their songs “Rings” and the titular “Skylight” stood out as by far their best of the evening.
They maintained the folksy tone accompanied by a hard edge and emotional vulnerability that fans are familiar with, while bringing fresh and well-crafted lyrics and melodies. Lyrics like “whatever you’re feeling is alright,” fit with the philosophy that Pinegrove has crafted in their music, one of acknowledgment and acceptance of feeling and openness.
It wasn’t until later in the night that they began to play their hits such as “Old Friends” and “Aphasia,” both of which were received with much celebration and many “woos” from the audience. The live experience of Pinegrove is at least as enjoyable as the recorded experience. While there are no special visuals to speak of, seeing the way the band feels the music with their forms adds something in itself. You can feel the music rising from somewhere beyond the surface.
It’s difficult to get at the heart of what makes music special, especially for me, as someone who doesn’t open myself to much of it. On the surface there are the obvious things: the technical quality of music, whether the instruments are played well and whether the vocals are in key, but to look merely at these things would be to overlook what makes music, and art in general, special.
In their show, Pinegrove certainly reached all of the bare minimums of performance. They played their instruments and sung all of the right words, but they also did another, third thing, which is something that makes me keep coming back to them over and over, even when I know all the words and can hum the tunes to myself. Something that draws me to their show on a Thursday night in D.C. when I have to be at work the next morning, and that thing has to do with feeling.
When I listen to Pinegrove, whether I’m a crowd of sweaty people with mustaches and nose rings or walking to class, the feeling that fuels every syllable and strum of their songs draws out feeling in myself. In today’s world where numbness and indifference seem to increasingly be the fashion, feeling must be cherished.
Pinegrove is a band that manages to repeatedly carve out their own special home in the human experience, one that you can’t help but return to, even if you have to go to work in the morning.