Evan Stephens Hall’s voice isn’t Southern-fried. Perhaps we can go with “lightly dusted in country-style cornmeal.”
From his captain’s post at Pinegrove’s loose-limbed jamboree on Friday night, Hall made me feel a lot better about never being able to accurately describe the New Jersey band’s music to my friends. “They’re sort of an alt-country-emo-punk thing,” I told my friend Emily when I invited her to the sold-out show at Barracuda. “You’ll love them.”
I tell everyone they’ll love Pinegrove. I believe that even more after an evening getting tangled up in twangy stories of old friends, new friends and everyone you meet in between.
Pinegrove kept the audience at a gentle boil the entire night, right from when Hall sang of washing windows with Angelina to start the show. Everything about Hall — backed up by Zack Levine on drums; Josh Marre on guitar; and Hannah Read of Texas’ Lomelda, which opened up for Pinegrove, on bass — is elastic, from the way his neck stretches when he broadcasts a particularly guttural emotion to his easy string slides between gentle strums and bluesy solos. On the song “Cadmium” alone, Hall swirled up gape-jawed keens, uvula-scraping punk howls and sweet, back-porch croons.
What with a sold-out crowd and all, the energy at Barracuda’s outside stage vibrated to the frequency of Hall and Marre’s woozy, double-vision guitars. The breeze was cool, and raindrops — so small they only left a single little wet freckle on your arm — dropped infrequently. At an outdoor show in Texas, that passes for magic in the air. Perfect little moments hide behind cans of Pabst and cigarettes you’re not technically allowed to smoke. Boys in thick-rimmed glasses and girls in denim jackets waited for those punctuating turns of phrase in Pinegrove’s songs, ready to erupt in reciprocal yelps. “If nothing else it's an idle curiosity,” they vented on “Size of the Moon”; “It’s so impossible” they bayed on the aformentioned “Cadmium.”
Those lyrical anchor points are vital tethers for Pinegrove’s tunes, rich with extra-credit vocabulary words (Caravaggio! Sublimate!) and the ability to make you a little uncomfortable from personal recognition. This was apparent nowhere moreso than the twin suite of “New Friends” and “Old Friends,” the band’s biggest song. My friend Emily and I, right before Pinegrove took the stage, had been talking about the social sieve of your late 20s and early 30s. Old friends move away. The twin realities of adult responsibilities and solidifying senses of self cause a natural attrition in your gang. So, when Hall sings, “Maybe I should have gone out a bit more/When you guys were still in town” on “Old Friends,” you’re enough in your feelings to truly feel cracked open by the defiant “I resolve to make new friends” in, well, “New Friends.”
(And let’s not even talk about the line “The end of summer and I'm still in love with her” and its rightful place in the emo lyric pantheon.)
Friday night, for a bit, found a pit of new friends gathered together at the end of summer in Austin. One guy by the bar in the back waved a T-shirt from the merch table, flag-like, in that water-speckled air between songs. In the true secessionist spirit of Texas, Hall declared the back of Barracuda the Sovereign Republic of Pinegrove.
“Welcome to the first-annual caucus,” he said. “We still have more songs, we just want to say we're having fun.”