Notorious sweatbox Scala is rammed tonight, packed to the rafters with indie kids and beardy emos ahead of Pinegrove’s sold-out headline show. For many, this will be their first time catching the Montclair, NJ band, with 2016 record Cardinal seeing a slow-burning kind of success in the UK. As a result, the air is bubbling with anticipation; a collective curiosity as to how Pinegrove’s folky, careful introspection will translate live.
Sidling onstage to a comically inappropriate pop-punk song, frontman Evan Stephens Hall delightedly announces that the band chose their own walk-on music, eliciting cheers of approval from a crowd touchingly eager to make Pinegrove feel welcome. Opening with the measured, rolling landscape of ‘Visiting’, the band hurry through gorgeous Cardinal highlights ‘Old Friends’ and ‘Aphasia’ with nervous energy, their delivery taut and well-practised. It’s rare this early in a set to see beers held aloft and eyes closed in singalong, but Stephens Hall’s knack for precise, clear-eyed articulation is unparalleled, leading to the sweetly hilarious spectacle of dudes three beers deep trying to wrap their tongues around the phrase “solipsistic moods”.
The band loosen up as they head into older material territory, with little perceptible dip in atmosphere for the Wilco-tinged Americana of ‘V’. They wisely draw most of their set from Cardinal throughout, however, with ‘Cadmium’ segueing into punk-pop on ‘Then Again’ before the meandering ‘Waveform’. Known for his winsome onstage charisma, Stephens Hall is uncharacteristically quiet at first, eventually confiding, “so… uh, the is the biggest show we’ve played, anywhere, ever”, taking in the room with a shy smile before the crowd vindicates him with deafening applause.
As the night draws to a close with old favourite ‘New Friends’, you get a sense that no one can quite believe this band are no longer a well-kept secret- Least of all Pinegrove.
Words by Charys Newton