Whenever I’m at a hot and overcrowded show, I’m reminded of Michael Gira. The Swans mastermind and noise rock pioneer hates air conditioning. Let me rephrase that; he hates air conditioned concert venues. Gira demands the A/C get turned off before shows, believing that heat and sweat provide a “cleansing experience” for the band and their fans. He would have enjoyed himself at last night’s Hop Along show.
Fresh off the heels of their recently released Painted Shut, the up-and-coming indie-folk-punk-rock band played to a packed and sweaty Lost Lake Lounge. I was anticipating hearing Frances Quinlan’s outstanding voice in the flesh, but I was not prepared.
All the whispery nuance and passionate roar in Quinlan came out Wednesday night. She might be the smallest vocalist I have ever seen in my life, but that voice packs a punch. After the band’s first song, “Waitress”, there were 4 or 5 audible ‘holy shit’s, as the collective realization that a beautiful show was about to take place swept its way across the room. I was a bit surprised at the choice to play one of their more emotional and popular songs first, but it was a hell of an opener.
Quinlan performed every song in the set with all the nuance and subtlety of Hop Along’s studio recordings without losing any of their power, her alternating soft, palliative whisper and Janis Joplin-esque growl constantly tearing through ears and heartstrings. She does this thing where she lulls the audience in with a whisper and then shatters them with her roar, a skill almost completely unmatched in music today. At times I was even reminded of that famous description of Tom Waits’ voice – rough and raw from being “soaked in bourbon and left hanging in a smokehouse.”
Despite an emphasis on their new material, the few older tracks they played made it clear that Quinlan has always had the ability to write a catchy pop hook. An evidently devoted audience sang along to almost every word of those songs and engaged with the band, laughing at Quinlan’s riff on the famous “moth joke” and giving breakfast burrito recommendations.
I was impressed at how well Joe Reinhart’s guitar solos turned out live. His subtle use of feedback and distortion transfers nicely to a live setting, and he’s a better guitarist than I initially gave him credit for when reviewing the album. The drumming was also tight and intricate, a quality of Hop Along’s music that I hadn’t previously picked up on.
The band heads out soon in support of The War on Drugs’ tour, and those lucky enough to see Hop Along will know what an inspiring and energetic performance they put on, as evidenced by the damp backs of shirts and mascara running down Quinlan’s sweaty cheeks Wednesday night. They just might be the breakthrough act of 2015.