The greats have a way of telling stories in songs that may not seem so obvious to the audience. As history has shown us, many of the greatest songs ever written all have subtle messages that are not as clear on that first listen, but it’s all about being let into worlds of the unknown by the artist. I am not here proclaiming in the first few lines of my Pinegrove review that they have written some of the greatest songs ever (they might!!), but the way they present their songs in that covert approach to the subject matter, seem to fit perfectly with this band and tonight’s sold out show at Manchester’s Deaf Institute gives them a platform to perfectly showcase that.
Something is clearly in the water down in New Jersey – Springsteen and Paul Simon definitely come to mind. Having been described as emo meets country-pop, lead singer Evan Stephens Hall clearly has a knack of writing songs that, combined with slightly hypnotic performances, leave you wanting to know more about tales of love, family and heartache.
Reminiscent of Springsteen/Bright Eyes songs written and sung in a reflective, ‘days gone by’ kind of way, lingered with hidden meanings that we aren’t supposed to know, Pinegrove have a melancholy to their songs, and you go with that. Songs such as ‘Old Friends‘ and ‘Cadmium‘ bring an honest, sobering reflection of experiences that you feel you know, but at the same time you don’t.
After a number of small releases, label Run for Cover signed the band for their debut release ‘Cardinal‘. A memorable experience featuring 8 songs, this album speaks volumes for the band. They know their sound and identity and that goes a long way. As the gig goes by, I often wondered to myself if a certain band I held in high regard because of their song telling back in my college days (well over 10 years ago) might want to check out Pinegrove and try to reconnect back to their own roots (just need to kick the bucket eh lads?!) It’s small town tales with a big sound and an even bigger heart.
Walking out to Pop-Punk one hit wonders Lit and ‘My Own Worst Enemy’, Pinegrove needn’t have been so self-deprecating in the song choice. From the off they were anything but their own worst enemy. I’ve listened to Cardinal several times on repeat, so I was more than familiar with all the songs, but what caught me by surprise were how at ease the band were playing them, as well as adding little touches and flicks to the tunes. It was confident with a capital ‘C’, and was only backed up in between songs when Evan delighted the audience with his in-prompt Science seminars. NASA, aliens and even a sly dig at Trump were thrown in for good measure (I mean – who doesn’t these days?!)
Many new songs were put in the set list. I for one cringe at the thought of any new band playing new songs at some of their early gigs – That sentence should just answer the reason why. However, after listening to the new stuff, it was clear they had put them in for a very good reason. It sounded like some of the best stuff they had written. Catchy pop stuff at its finest; I even started to think that this band could go even bigger than first imagined. They will have a following as alt-country music seems to be in, in a big way currently.
Honouring missing member Nandi Plunkett with a lovely mention (she was out with Half Waif – her other band/project), the band looked like they were having a great time on stage and that’s where half the battle is won in my opinion when trying to win over the audience. Sure, we are all there to see the band in the first place, but we also want to be entertained at the same time. Entertained we were indeed.
The pinnacle of the gig was debut album closing song ‘New Friends‘. For the encore, we are treated to a new acoustic number by a solo Evan, followed by what Evan describes as a “love song that is aimed at anyone who has loved anything” (narrows it down!). He goes on to say the meaning behind it is that it’s not just conformed to relationship love, but all love…EVERYWHERE!! (Now you can see this subtle meaning thing I was talking about!)
This is the song I first heard when I discovered Pinegrove, and from that first listen this song has always captivated me. The more and more I have listened it, the more I feel this could be Pinegrove’s ‘Born to Run’, and it only cements it after Evans comments before the performance. Just like Born to Run, we have a tale of love, but towards friends, memories and the unexpected. It’s a great way to end a delightful gig, and the audience clearly lap the final song up.
I think these guys are well worth checking out. The gig impressed throughout. If my review hasn’t sold it to you, then just do as Pinegrove would say: “What’s the worst that could happen”?