Hippo Campus is an Afro-Indie group of 22 year old college dropouts from Minnesota. Their ice-cold home didn’t stop them producing an easy-going debut album this year that is essentially a soundtrack to Summer. And the success of that didn’t stop them following it up with an equally sun-kissed EP called Warm Glow just a few months later. So it should come as no surprise that the overcrowded Bristol music venue, The Fleece doesn’t seem to intimidate the four-piece one bit. It might seem hard to imagine warm vocals and buttery riffs in this dusty live music venue when they’d surely be more at home in a meadow. But Hippo Campus are well versed in the art of the paradox. The way they played on Thursday is transcendental. It’s almost as if the audience is spying on one of their rehearsals, and at this particular rehearsal they’ve decided to amp the album up to a million and just have a fucking good time.
Perhaps this is due to vocalist Jake Luppen and guitarist Zach Sutton’s remarkably cohesive energy on stage. It’s as if they haven’t noticed the fame they’ve achieved in the last three years, let alone the crowd in front of them. They’re still high schoolers messing around in a living room. This is especially apparent in debut-album highlights, “Way It Goes,” when the whole band turn away from their audience and ditch their allocated spaces on stage simply to serenade each other. Their natural chemistry is even more evident in the boundless “interlude,” which gives the room a chance to catch its breath, building suspense on where Hippo Campus will take us next. This instrumental piece guides the night seamlessly into “Epitaph,” a track boasting a rockier influence with its slow build and descending vocals.
The audience is transported with a happy hand from Sunday school to Lake Wisconsin. From casual catchy hits [Suicide Saturday] to fast-paced bangers [Boyish] and then to the highlight of the whole show: the meticulously constructed “Monsoon," evidently the majority’s favourite track of the night. On record, a downtempo pluck at the heart strings, yet live it lifts the spirits higher than the Fleece’s low ceilings can handle.
As a frontman, Luppen’s allure is hard to ignore. His wistful croon invites the room into the love-struck autobiographical lyrics as found in “Poems” or in the coming of age “Western Kids” chorus. Hippo Campus’ album, “Landmark” is an earnest mix of laid-back tunes that carry both a sense of nostalgia and bold passion. Whatever flamboyance is lacking on record is omnipresent on stage in a show brimming with arbour and ambience.
In this gig, the audience is an accessory. There is no promotional ulterior motive, no shallow chit chat. Hippo Campus were wrapped up in themselves and the ride they’re taking you on. It’s a roller coaster of flawlessly woven instrumentals, hooks and stories. And everyone’s got a ticket.