It was a Tuesday night, and frankly, I wasn’t expecting a huge turnout — Grand Rapids isn’t the most accessible city in Mich., and Tuesdays aren’t typically ideal for club shows. I showed up early to check out the wildly impressive Thin Lips, whose new record Chosen Family is a testament to the raw talent that seems to flow endlessly from Philadelphia, which is also home to their tourmates in Hop Along. After their set, which included some back-up vocals from Hop Along’s Frances Quinlan, I looked around to notice the crowd had filled out significantly during the opening performance, which must have been near capacity by that point.
Hop Along is clearly turning heads, especially with their newest effort Bark Your Head Off, Dog, which landed them a feature in Rolling Stone published the day of the show. The album is tight, unpredictable and thoroughly impressive from front to back, featuring unmatched composition and hairpin changes in tempo and atmosphere. In all honesty, the album is so ambitious and complex I was worried it wouldn’t fare nearly as well live. My worries were entirely quelled by the end of their opening track (and new album opener), “How Simple.”
Hop Along’s related artists on Spotify include Jeff Rosenstock, Lemuria and Glocca Morra, who all are barely tangential to Hop Along in terms of similarity. Much like Spotify’s difficulty in finding similar artists (likely because there aren’t any), I won’t pretend to have the vocabulary to accurately describe Hop Along’s musicianship. Even within the confines of a live setting, their art is absolutely stunning; Quinlan’s vocals range from desperate yells to soft musings, best exemplified during “Not Abel,” a sprawling, biblically-charged track split into two distinct sections that the band navigated gracefully through its entire duration. The band’s greatest strength is inarguably the quality of each individual who brings these songs to life. Every instrument holds a significant weight in every song — not a single note goes to waste.
And to add to their impressive skill, the band was more than happy to banter with the crowd, lightening the mood while showing their own comfort and ease on stage. Quips from Quinlan included “You already paid your money, I hate Metallica!” and “Keep your shirt on, Jim!” referencing the boho aesthetic of Jim Morrison.
While touring in support of their newest album, Hop Along still included tracks from their previous records, rounding out a 14-track setlist that truly reflected the diversity and growth in their songwriting. Fan favorites included wonderful and poppy songs like “Tibetan Pop Stars” and “The Knock,” while deep cuts “Kids on the Boardwalk” and “Texas Funeral” were resounded back by the long time fans in the audience. When words seem to fail, Hop Along does the heavylifting with their songwriting, finding ways to convey feeling in their little narratives carried over fusions of pop, rock, indie and the occasional dash of folk.