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Review: Hippo Campus returns to Portland

The Crystal Ballroom filled with chants Saturday night as the soaring indie-group Hippo Campus brought warm vibes to the drizzly Portland night.

Saint Paul, MN-based Hippo Campus comprises Jake Luppen (vocals), Nathan Stocker (guitar), Zach Sutton (bass) and Whistler Allen (drums). Each member goes by the stage names Turntan, Stitches, Espo and Beans respectively.

Los Angeles-based indie-group Sure Sure opened the show on a mellow note. The four-piece brought a calm sound driven by relaxed baselines and flitty keyboard. While playing “Hands Up Head Down” guitarist Charlie Glick instructed the crowd through a new dance move: raised arms, a sulking head and a slight bounce that raised a timberline of bobbing hands in the mural-adorned ballroom.

Hippo Campus, who first played the Wonder Ballroom in 2015, emerged on to a stage lit only by one row of cool-blue stage lights. Luppen began delicately singing  “warm glow”, the title track off the group’s most recent EP after 2017’s debut album “Landmark”. The whimsical and oscillating vocals laid on paced, ambient guitar before the room burst into light on the chorus.

The show covered every corner of Hippo Campus’ discography. Songs from early EPs – such as “South” and “Little Grace” – made appearances, while new favorites like “baseball” showcased the group’s growing skill. The band even debuted a new song titled “Joy.” The drifting chorus of “feeble joy, that’s all she wrote” gave fans an inside look at what the group has in store for the future.  

The show was a masterclass in feeling. Dancey songs such as “Western Kids” rattled the Crystal’s floor, and ballads such as “Monsoon” lulled the crowd into a sway. Each song followed the next with ease, one track hushing the crowd before getting them off their feet with skipping and punctual guitar lines. Besides demonstrating their musical dexterity through riff after riff, the show expounded on Hippo Campus’ emotional fluidity.

For most of the band’s songs, Luppen stepped back from the mic as the crowd cheered the words, and the band’s members were clearly enthused to have their work chanted. The band looked as thrilled to be playing their music as the crowd was to hear it. “It’s good to know there’s people like you in these trying times,” Stocker said.

The show concluded on two of Hippo Campus’ bigger hits: the landmark track “Way it Goes” leading into the jumpy and whimsical “Buttercup,” which Stocker dedicated to “all the strong women” in the crowd. Within minutes after leaving the stage the crowd launched into a chant for an encore, and the band came back for its trademark follow-up, “Violet.”

In the end, the guitars were thrown onto their stands, the drumsticks and guitar picks were tossed into the crowd and Hippo Campus gave its final bow. Earlier in the night, the band’s members reminisced on their last visit to Portland in 2015, when they had some of their equipment stolen, and were grateful that this night had started off better. By the end of the night it was obvious that this time around, everyone got what they came for.

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Alec Cowan

Alec Cowan

Alec Cowan is the Podcast Editor for the Emerald. He spends most of his time purchasing books he doesn't read and listening to podcasts to sound more smarter.