Concert review: At the Pageant, Grouplove (with Alt-J) proves bigger isn’t always better, Monday, October 8
When you see a band for the fourth time, you start to notice weaknesses. On Monday I saw Grouplove for the fourth time in half that many years. Some of the band’s flaws became more than apparent.
The night started off spectacularly, with Mercury Prize nominees Alt-J playing a 40-minute set that featured all the songs you would know if you knew Alt-J. Standing side by side in a row at the front of the stage, the quartet turned in a mesmerizing set.
To start, the band played its “Intro” before guitarist and vocalist Joe Newman paired with keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton for a stunning a cappella melody that led into a ferocious rendition of recent single “Tessellate.” The band carried on with “Fitzpleasure” and “Breezeblocks,” as well as a cover of Kylie Minogue’s “Slow” that they said they were playing live for just the second time. They played “Taro” to close, dedicating it to the group of girls in the front row that had been requesting it since the start of the show.
What made Alt-J’s set at the Pageant so stunning was the complexity of the sound, all done live. Bongos, tambourines, a xylophone and a castanet recreated the complicated, tropical sounds of the band’s debut release, “An Awesome Wave.” The songs sounded straight off the album, but only because they were so perfectly executed.
During the set change, the crowd nearly doubled in size. Still, the mix of twenty-something-year-olds drinking beer and 16-year-old-girls on their iPhones far from filled the venue, leaving the entire upper balcony completely empty.
Grouplove started at around 9:15 p.m., running and jumping onto the stage as Kanye West’s “Monster” blasted from the speakers. Floral lamps and furniture decorated the stage, almost as if to suggest the show could be taking place in your grandmother’s living room. On the back curtain were rows of balloons and a pattern of big glass circles splattered in white paint that for some reason reminded me of the giant hair dryers you see at salons. Guitarist Christian Zucconi sported a mop of newly platinum blonde hair and a red bathrobe over an inside out T-shirt. Frontwoman Hannah Hopper wore a black and white lace dress and ripped tights.
The band opened with “Itchin’ on a Photograph,” incredibly loud and full of energy. They then played “Lovely Cup,” “Don’t Say Oh Well” and “Betty’s a Bombshell,” all from the band’s debut album “Never Trust a Happy Song.” One of my biggest problems with the show is that all but two of the songs Grouplove played came from that album. The two other songs played were a new song called “Gonna Get High” and a cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”
The band played “Never Trust a Happy Song” to a pulp, performing all 12 of the songs on it. As the show rounded out, the set left no suspense as to what song would come next. The encore was, of course, “Colours” and “Tongue Tied,” because those were the only two songs Grouplove had left.
Maybe as a way to overcome the lack of new material, Grouplove seemed to add a lot of extra filler to its show. The band rambled on about how it is getting old, how much they love each other and how much they love St. Louis. The extended breaks between songs should have built excitement but just dragged on, and seemed to get the crowd more agitated than enthused. The band also pumped up the sound and lights, possibly a bit too much, leading to drummer Ryan Rabin being washed out by the vocals and guitars — not mention the flood of light upon him. Singing happy birthday to Rabin midway through the show was cute, though.
Grouplove seemed to be under the mindset that bigger is always better — bigger sound, bigger lights and an all around bigger production. The first few times I saw the band, it seemed happy and thrilled to be on stage. On this evening, the music seemed forced and desperate; needless to say, I don’t think I’ll be returning for a fifth time.