Hippo Campus and The Districts bring an electric performance to The Pageant


Caroline Judd

Performing Tues. Oct. 9 at the Pageant, Hippo Campus bassist and keyboardist Zach Sutton provides backup vocals for songs off the band’s latest album “Bambi.”

Excited chatter filled the room as fans flowed into The Pageant Tues. Oct. 9, impatiently waiting for The Districts, a Philadelphia based rock band, to open up the show for the even more anticipated Hippo Campus, an indie band from Minnesota.

With the release of their new album “Bambi” Sept. 28, Hippo Campus embarked on a month-long tour across America Oct. 5. The band, consisting of five members, met in high school and played in other bands until they came together in 2013.  After releasing multiple EPs, they released their first album “Landmark,” an upbeat, yet lyrically complex set of 13 songs. I first got into Hippo Campus when I saw them at Loufest last year, where they gave an infectious, high energy performance.

Caroline Judd
The Districts lead singer and guitarist Rob Grote plays songs from the band’s latest album, “Popular Manipulations.”

While Hippo Campus is touring their new album, The Districts most recent album, “Popular Manipulations,” was released in August of 2017. Although I barely knew any of their songs when I first saw them open for Twin Peaks last March, I was immediately struck by how incredible their live performance was–the instruments and vocals intertwining to create a gritty, emotion-filled sound. After that, I couldn’t get enough of the album “Popular Manipulations,” the record staying on my turntable for weeks.

The Districts gave a strong opening with the song “Nighttime Girls,” a single they released in February, followed by “Violet,” the second song on their latest album. Although both songs are energetic, they don’t quite sound upbeat; like many of the band’s songs, it feels desperate and electrifying, aided by the raw vocals of lead singer and guitarist Rob Grote. In fact, Grote adds a powerful element to their live performances, making the emotional depth of the songs come to life through his obvious immersion into the music he’s playing. Later in the band’s set, they played one of my favorites (even though I have many, many favorite songs by them), “If Before I Wake,” a song with lyrics that make you face the harsh realities of life yet with guitar riffs that will make you go off. Among the songs from their multiple albums, they sprinkled in unreleased music, giving fans a sneak peek into future releases. My only disappointment was the incredibly short length of the set; although the band had no control over this, the time factor didn’t allow for some of my favorite songs (like I said, I have a lot) to be played.  

As The Districts’ set ended and Hippo Campus’ instruments were set up on stage, the excitement of the crowd only heightened. I could tell that while I was already a fan of both bands, many people were only familiar with Hippo Campus. When the first notes of “Bambi,” a single from the album of the same name, finally rung out across the small venue, the crowd went wild, each person seeming to unite in their passionate cheers. This song, in particular, illustrates how the band balances between introspective lyrics and infectious melodies with lilting vocals. As the crowd enthusiastically sang along to lyrics like, “I haven’t been much myself / And I feel like my friends are being put through this hell I’m feeling,” this balancing act was personified and perfectly executed as the vocals and melody wove together. Despite the depressing nature of these lyrics, like many of my favorite Hippo Campus songs, the band ends it on a motivating note: “Wait and see, I’ll be making my own way now / I’ll be making my own way now, to where I got to be.” After listening to the song on repeat before the show, it was definitely cathartic to be able to shout those words along with the crowd.

Caroline Judd
Adjusting his guitar pedals, Hippo Campus lead singer and guitarist Jake Luppen prepares to play songs from the bands’ album “Bambi.”

In fact, the crowd’s energy was why this show was so fun—songs like “Buttercup” came to life with the crowd singing along, hundreds of people dancing to the crisp beats and empowering lyrics. After playing this song, the band stepped off stage before the encore; however, while the crowd usually shouts a unified “Encore, Encore,” the excited buzz, especially after such an upbeat song, was too strong for that, the crowd instead creating an almost deafening cheer until the band came back on. The band only added to the electric vibe, exuding a magnetic confidence. Each member’s unique personality seemed to shine as they interacted on stage with their distinct dance moves and certain musical flourishes. Lead singer and guitarist Jake Luppen especially radiated a cool charisma, broken only when he became so immersed in a song that a smile would emerge.

Even a week later, I can still feel the intoxicating excitement of the show as I listen to both bands on repeat (and maybe become a little obsessed with them). Despite the different vibes of the bands, both The Districts and Hippo Campus delivered performances that seemed to manifest the enlivening emotions of each song. Needless to say, I’m definitely looking forward to the next time these bands play in St. Louis.