ATLANTA, GA OCTOBER 13, 2018 – On a Saturday evening, the voices of hundreds of fans carried down the staircase leading to the Masquerade courtyard; touring in support of their new album ‘Bambi,’ Hippo Campus’ anticipated return to Atlanta resulted in a sold out show that had fans lining up hours before doors. Although they have previously played in Atlanta, and at the same venue’s old location, this was the band’s first time playing the newly renovated, nearly 1,500 capacity room aptly named “Heaven”. Complete with multi-level balcony seating, the space seemed almost like a small stadium.
The Districts, a five-piece indie alternative band opened the show with a track titled “Nighttime Girls,” dressed with clean vocal melodies over a driving rhythm guitar. Despite their Pennsylvanian roots, many of their songs’ instrumentals sounded reminiscent of surf rock. Far from limited to the genre, the band’s keyboardist layers synth-produced ambient soundscapes on top of the guitar; lasting only one or two minutes, the miniature interludes quickly transitioned into a single strum chord progression.
The sudden change rallied the crowd and was met with loud cheers. In the next song, lead singer Rob Grote crooned over another surf-inspired melody, while an excited audience joins him in time for the chorus: “If it makes you feel alright, If it makes you feel alright”. Instrumentally refocused, the 80s style synth returns as The Districts trademark, its rhythms synchronated with those of the drummer and bassist, Braden Lawrence and Connor Jacobus. Overall the band’s energy on stage was a perfect setup for the rest of the show.
By the time the members of Hippo Campus aligned themselves onstage, the crowd was packed tight against the barricades. They remain silent as they don their instruments, and go straight into the title track of this album cycle, “Bambi”. Clearly regarded as a fan favorite, the audience was enlivened at the song’s starting notes. In contrast, the band seemed restrained at first, with singer Jake Luppen’s movements confined within a small radius of the microphone stand; but the energy of the room soon swept them up with songs like “South” being a highlight of the set.
The audience screamed along to nearly every word in the refrain, “I walk the same way my father told me/ Back straight and chest out just like a soldier,” and in unison hushed their tones as drummer Whistler Allen contributed his own harmonies during the refrain. Though they exchanged little banter with the crowd, Luppen said they were “happy to be back,” and hoped to catch rap artist Denzel Curry performing in the room next door. The personality of the band shone in moments like this; in a later instrumental break, guitarist Nathan Stocker and bassist Zach Sutton sit together on a ledge facing Allen during a flugelhorn solo, as though they were playing for each other on a living room couch.