Photos by Anna McGarrigle
“Hey everyone! I have worms. You know, that shit your dog has?”
Thus Alex G appropriately began last Saturday’s show at American University’s the Tavern as the first performer of a two-band bill. The student-run WVAU booked, by avenues sought by WRGW out of sheer envy, two of the more prolific independent acts straight out of the city of Philadelphia: SANDY Alex Giannascoli and Hop Along. The brief two-act bill provided for an inherently thrilling albeit tender evening of impassioned independent rock and roll, and made for an intimate performance by both bands.
(Brief note: It should be mentioned that prior to the first set by Giannascoli, a student DJ whose name was unavailable at the time of the performance span some straight firey jams for those congregated prior to the official beginning of the show. If you’re reading this, pseudoanonymous American student DJ, those of us present from GW appreciate your attentiveness to the historical importance of early electronic pop, as well as the fact that you played a-ha’s “Take On Me.”)
Alex G and company’s aesthetic and set was initially marked by some level of lackadaisical aloofness and a generally casual slacker ethos. This continued for the first few tunes of their set, as warm guitars interwove syncopated percussive patterns, before Giannascoli immediately switched it up for an aggressive, snarling bout of screaming and body kinetics, shortly afterwards opting for a chilled-out vibe for the rest of his performance. This was one of many interesting contrasts that occurred throughout most of the set by Alex G et. al, a direct blending of opposites, be it the relaxed onstage aesthetic of the band as they played increasingly complex electric patterns or the warm, overdriven tone of guitars compared to Giannascoli’s bobbing and weaving.
Overall, what was most engaging about Alex G’s setlist were the ways in which they created interesting and satisfying live performances using a relatively minimal onstage setup. G’s Rules and DSU feature often eclectic instrumentation, but reproduced in a live setting they eschew the quieter elements of their recordings for a more raw, garage-rock quality that is as complex as it is catchy.
Hop Along took the stage in full force immediately following, accentuated by Frances Quinlan’s vocal performance, lauded by some as the “best voice in rock music today.” Clickbait article title aside, Quinlan does have an incredible instrument, not only in the scope and range of her vocals but her ability to slide between a tender contained melody and a more gravely, strained emotional vocal fry. Quinlan’s voice is the centerpiece of her band’s sound, triumphant among the victory march drive of Hop Along’s electronic instrumentation.
The setlist featured much of the band’s 2015 release Painted Shut, their third effort and already the recipient of year-end praise. Perhaps by contrast with the first performance of the evening, Hop Along are to be lauded by the amount of raucous, focused energy brought to the stage; Mark Quinlan, drummer and brother of Frances, helped drive the music in an integral way, vivacious in his playing and barely able to stay seated at the conclusion of each song.
As the band played on and nearly blew out the speakers present at the Tavern, Hop Along caught an unbeatable groove, accentuated by occasional dives into weird instrumentalist segues that made for an unforgettable performance. Kudos to WVAU for booking a great bill, and for inviting WRGW to tag along for an impeccably fun evening.