By Joey Mueser | Staff Writer
A group of guys in their early 20s met when they were younger and shared an appreciation for music: it’s surprise the recipe for a successful rock band (by today’s standards) isn’t published in a cookbook somewhere. The four-man set that makes up Hippo Campus’ indie-rock sound was formed in their high school years in St. Paul, Minnesota. The four guys all attended a performing arts school and found each other while playing in other bands before their final coming-together as Hippo Campus in 2013.
It wasn’t until late 2014 that the group released their six-track EP, Bashful Creatures, which grabbed the attention of Grand Jury Music, a highly sought after record label with artists including Day Wave, Ne-Hi and Twin Peaks. The company found something unique in Hippo Campus’ sound and offered the band to sign after their first EP had been released. Given the opportunity to make music under the highly acclaimed label Grand Jury Music is becoming, it would’ve been obscene not to accept the offer.
The group toured with its new EP and played in Pittsburgh’s Cattivo and even had a free concert in Schenley Plaza which were both well-attended and praised highly. Hippo Campus’ Pittsburgh audience had been well-established to begin with, and its seemingly faithful fan base at a nearly sold-out crowd at Mr. Smalls made that clear: people camped for hours in advance to get a good spot at the show. It was a pretty dedicated crowd, if you ask me.
Maybe the fans were most excited about Hippo Campus’ latest release. The group put out its first full length album, Landmark, which gained more publicity and hype than their first EP had. This release aided their rise in becoming one of the more well-known and recognizable indie-rock bands of today’s music scene. With the addition of their new album, the group broadened their genre by going deeper into a more filtered and more digitized sound, subsequently quieting their previously established alternative rock music which emerged from their EP that so many people, including their record label, noticed and enjoyed.
Going into the show, I had full expectations for Hippo Campus to put on an outstanding performance given the numerous hits emerging from Landmark. Additionally, their recently released and second EP, warm glow proved to hold many great tracks. The firepower of both new hits and classics for the band set them up for what should have been plenty of material to put their crowd in a trance. On the other hand, I expected Remo Drive, the opening band for Hippo Campus, to be good, but not to be a show to stick with me. However, thanks to a killer performance from Remo Drive and just an OK show by Hippo Campus, the contrary proved to be true.
Remo Drive, a true independently-operating band under its own label, opened its set with power chords and strong rock tunes that were a perfect mix of a classic emo revival characteristics and experimental and innovative sounds which demanded the audience’s attention. The group produced and released its sophomore, full-length LP in early 2017 titled Greatest Hits which, despite its cheesy name, sounds the furthest thing from typical.
Remo Drive’s Sam Mathys on drums was a spectacle in and of hiself. His energy level, tempo changes and strict time keeping were the highlight of this unexpected gem of a show. And, clearly, I wasn’t the only one elated with the performance, as mosh pits swarmed feverishly throughout the set in the near-packed crowd.
Now, the argument could be made that Remo Drive created a tough act to follow, however, in the past, Hippo Campus has put on some pretty stellar shows in Pittsburgh. However, for whatever reason, their intensity and passion seemed to be lackluster at Mr. Smalls, thus making them a little bit of a let down. The performance wasn’t bad by any means, and I don’t think that takes away from the band’s great album and EPs that have been released over the years, but they could’ve showed with a stronger appearance for an excited, elbow-to-elbow crowd.
Hippo Campus put on a good performance, but hats off to Remo Drive for stealing the show and seizing the opportunity of a near sold-out crowd to impress with the great music it has in store.