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Rising indie band Pinegrove plays at Skidmore College

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Source: Ariel Einbinder
Source: Ariel Einbinder

By ELI ENIS

3/1/16

Guided only by the minimal information provided on a Facebook event page that was created just days before and a lust for catching one of indie punk’s latest buzz bands, a flock of Albany kids congregated with Skidmore College’s best-informed hipsters last Thursday on the Skidmore campus. Pinegrove, the Montclair, New Jersey brainchild of frontman Evan Stephens Hall, have been gaining notoriety within the indie and punk scene over the past few months and just released their first proper full-length a couple weeks back via the respected Run For Cover Records (Modern Baseball, Turnover, Basement).

The band has been playing various one-off shows at colleges and small venues since the album, titled “Cardinal,” dropped in mid-February, and Skidmore College was lucky enough to snag them for what appeared to be a very last minute arrangement.

Unlike the cramped basement they played in Albany last October, the multi-purpose event hall at Skidmore was at least three times the size and actually included a small stage setup. Positioned in front of a gray stone fireplace that was partially strung with colored Christmas lights, the performance area was spacious and inviting, as the relatively tall ceilings opened the room up to provide proper lighting. The building resembled a generic town park lodge, and the fact that it was set off to the side of the other buildings and was surrounded by trees created a peaceful, natural atmosphere that was a pleasing contrast to the urban environment of Albany’s DIY venues.

The first of two opening acts began their set with essentially no warning and the frontman, who dressed like he just stepped off the set of “Dazed and Confused,” asked the audience to “close your eyes and imagine you’re on an albatross flying through space.”

Whether it was one of the audience members or the band themselves, the room immediately began to reek of weed as they jammed through a half-hour’s worth of psychedelic rock a la Jimi Hendrix. Although a completely different sound than Pinegrove, the four-piece were really talented and didn’t seem too out of place against the following acts.

After their set the size of the crowd instantly tripled as roughly 50 students arrived to catch Mal Devisa, a solo act who roared through a series of tense, emotional songs that were carried only by the plucking of a bass guitar. Her powerful voice was capable of ascending multiple ranges within each short outburst and then quickly dropping back down to a murmur, sometimes pausing for upwards of five seconds, leaving the audience on edge before shattering the silence with her next line. Again, musically incomparable to Pinegrove, but thoroughly impressive.

As Hall and company took the stage and began ripping into “Old Friends,” one of the catchier, upbeat songs on “Cardinal,” it was clear that most of the audience had no idea who Pinegrove were. Perhaps expecting something a bit more fast-paced, half of the roughly 70 attendees snuck out after the first few songs. The band remained unfazed, almost purposely unaware of the cluster of captivated audience members intently head-bobbing along to their twangy, mid-paced indie numbers. Save for a few moments of casual banter between songs, the band played through 12 tunes almost non-stop, which included a good portion of “Cardinal,” as well as some other back-catalogue material.

Pinegrove is a unique blend of indie rock, emo and punk, and a heavy splash of country and folk, which makes their audience just as mutt-like as their sonic output. Their narrative lyrical style can also be overwhelming at first, making it difficult to take it all in on first listen. It’s definitely easier to appreciate their live performance with a knowledge of their material, especially during the middle of the set when the slower songs start to mush together.

They ended with “Cardinal” closer “New Friends” and older, fan-favorite “Recycling,” which are two of their rockier songs. The band picked up the pace during those two and ended the set with a smiling, satisfied crowd that mirrored the warm grin of the band and inspired a current of bodies to wash over their merch table and snag a token of appreciation. Seeing a band like Pinegrove do as well on the outskirts of the Capital Region as they did in the heart of it was a heartwarming portrayal of the ever-increasing reach of DIY music in Upstate New York.

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