It’s been a bit since the famed Midwestern indie rock band, Hippo Campus stopped by the JBTV Studio for a performance. To be exact, the last time they came was in 2015 and at the time they only had two EPs out. Now, in 2019 when I had the chance to see them live in concert for the second time, they’ve grown, matured, and ultimately found their sound as a band and have two ALBUMS out into the world. To say that they’ve come a long way would be a gross understatement.
It’s been such a pleasure to watch this band grow up, and I feel as though I’ve grown up with them. At the time when I first discovered their perky, upbeat, and infectious Bashful Creatures EP in 2015, I instantly felt electrified. I didn’t realize music could be so fun yet so meaningful until I found Hippo Campus. But even as members Jake Luppen (lead vocals and guitar), Zach Sutton (bass and keys), Nathan Stocker (guitar), Whistler Allen (drums), and DeCarlo Jackson (trumpet) matured, so did their music. In 2016, the now-five piece band dropped their debut album Landmark, which went on to receive massive amounts of praise. The album was placed on album of the year lists as well as many ‘bands you need to keep on your radar’ lists. Though this was just the beginning of Hippo Campus’ accolades.
Right when it seemed as though they were being fit into a cookie-cutter classic indie-rock sound, the band did a 180 on listeners and critics with the release of their 2018 effort Bambi. This album proved to be experimental and polar opposite of what they seemed to have perfected on Landmark. Though true fans stuck with the band and traded in their Doc Martens and Pavement records for pink-tinged outfits matching the album’s aesthetic, others weren’t as keen and were more so confused as to what the band was trying to hone in on (myself included). However, after multiple listens and witnessing Hippo Campus perform these new songs live on The Bambi Tour, I can attest to the fact that this album and era is truly coming-of-age and is brilliantly done.
On April 26th, and after many months of anxiously (no pun intended here) waiting, I ventured back up to Madison, WI to see Hippo Campus play my favorite venue, The Sylvee. It just seems as though I’ve been so inspired by these said ‘Wisconsin pines’ that the band sings about in their song “Way It Goes”, that I’m always caught going out of my way to see them in Wisconsin. It’s an odd coincidence, but I thought I’d bring that to your attention, reader.
First up for the night was indie-pop songstress, Samia. In the weeks leading up to the show, I was eager to witness this promising young singer grace the stage. After hearing praise for her on her recent tour with the fabulous Donna Missal, my hopes were rather high. As the lights dimmed and Samia’s band ran on stage, her lead guitarist opened with a revving riff of Heart’s “Barracuda” and Samia immediately bounced out and the crowd was instantly hooked on her and her band’s positive energy. After playing a mix of sad songs and upbeat ones and closing her set with a powerful, full cover of “Barracuda”, the crowd was left breathless and excited for Hippo Campus’ performance.
At 9:45 sharp, one-by-one the members of Hippo Campus waltzed onto the stage to play to a sold-out crowd filled with long-time fans, new listeners, natives of Madison, along with a ton of dedicated Minnesotan fans traveling solely to see their favorite band live. Instantly, they burst into the catchy and synth-heavy title track from Bambi. From there they quickly transitioned into the warm “Golden” and the iconic “Way It Goes”. Looking back at the crowd, each person was off their feet - either jumping or dancing. Regardless, everyone in attendance was having a fantastic time, even three songs in.
Soon enough, the band surprised the crowd by completely switching up their setlist from the few nights prior by sprinkling in the catchy “Baseball”, my favorite song of theirs “Vines”, the more somber “Monsoon”, and one of the lead singles off of Bambi, “Doubt”. They also played my favorite deep cut from the new album, “Honestly”, a summery jam with prevalent guitars and a quirky “I suck, I suck, I suck” from Jake at the beginning of the song. Then midway through their set, Hippo Campus whipped out the crowd-favorite “South” which had everyone screaming a the top of their lungs “you go down south, south” on an endless loop before the song commenced. And soon after, they instantaneously transitioned into “Simple Season” a cute little song (another one of my favorites of their’s) that’s been absent from their live shows for a while.
For the duration of their set, their lighting was spectacular and romantic as warm ambers, cool purples, and bright pinks all glowed during their captivating performance. Between the phenomenal music and stage presence from Hippo Campus that was the main draw of the night, the soft lights were a nice accompaniment.
After leaving Madison with a smile plastered to my face and new songs I hadn’t delved into prior playing in the back of my head, I was pleased with my evening with Hippo Campus. If you get a chance, go out to a date of The Bambi Tour!
Words + Photos by Ava Butera