I will be the first to admit that when I heard Grouplove’s pop-infused hit single “Tongue Tied,” I did not know what to think of it. I enjoyed the sing-along nature, the upbeat tune, but what was so special about “my best friend’s house,” as the lyrics so cheerily stated? What’s wrong with my house? I think I have a nice house. I felt like I was left out of some indie alt-rock inside joke. This left me perplexed and unfairly judgmental, so when I got tickets to the group’s show at the Wiltern the weekend before Thanksgiving, I went with a bit of a hidden agenda — to see what this band was really about and why they were voted one of the Top Ten Best New Bands of 2010 by Nylon Magazine. I had to know.
Before Grouplove hit the stage, I got a chance to catch both of the openers, Superhumanoids and PAPA. Superhumanoids brought a more electronic sound to the evening, and though more mellow than anticipated, they set a nice tone for the room as the audience filtered in and strategically found the best spots to stand. PAPA came on shortly after, with Darren Weiss playing the drums like mad while simultaneously taking on lead vocals. Exhaustion swept over me just watching him perform. His cohort Daniel Presant played the guitar with expert precision, and at the very end of the set, in rock-star fashion, Darren jumped into the crowd and did a bit of old-school crowd surfing. The duo put the concert goers in a good mood and properly prepared everyone for a great night of music.
Within minutes, the stage went from a typical concert setup to a full theatrical experience. Desk lamps were placed here and there, and large silver balls hung against the backdrop. Vines were draped around the microphone stands, and when Grouplove finally hit the stage, they did so in full force.
The band — Hannah Hooper, Christian Zucconi, Sean Gadd, Ryan Rabin, and Andrew Wessen — seemed to put every ounce of energy they could muster into their first song of the night, “Itchin’ On A Photograph.” They jumped to the beat on the half-lit stage, all the while maintaining full control of the vibrant explosion of sound they were creating. They hopped right into their next song, the equally dynamic “Don’t Say Oh Well,” before barreling into “Lovely Cup.” Within the first three songs, I immediately understood the band’s appeal. Their talent extends far beyond the poppy melodies that barely make an impact in my tiny car radio speakers.
The night contained many surprising moments, partially because this show at The Wiltern was the last stop on Grouplove’s tour and bouts of musical experimentation were expected and welcomed. Between the encore and “Slow,” the concert distilled into a five-minute-long rave breakdown, which seemed to fit perfectly into this highly energetic show. To completely juxtapose the encore from the main set, the band returned to the stage with nothing but an acoustic guitar and these words from Christian Zucconi: “We want to try something with you.”
The lights dimmed, the microphones cut out, and a silence fell over the crowd. “In order for this to work we have to stay completely quiet.” One or two unruly audience members filled with a bit too much alcohol shouted through the silence, but they were immediately hushed by the rest of the obedient crowd. The band began to softly play “Cruel and Beautiful World,” singing in perfect harmony and showcasing their strong vocals. As the audience also sang along, chills ran down my arms and I felt honored to witness something so intimate and fleeting. The show culminated with the song “Colours,” and the crowd cheered and shouted to release any little bit of energy left.
With ears ringing and voices hoarse, we all left the theater knowing we witnessed something special. I walked to the car feeling a little foolish for not believing in this band before, but happy to know there is always a second chance to make a first impression.
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