Indie heroes Hippo Campus bring feel-good show to Oakland

4 people standing with suit jackets and sunglasses with confetti flying in front of the camera.
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The East Bay welcomed the Midwest dream boys of Hippo Campus to the stage of The Fox Theater on Feb. 2. What followed was a night of playful vivacity and mood-boosting music of the band’s “Bambi Tour” — which is in support of its latest album release.

The Minnesota band formed in 2013, but has seen quite a rise to fame after dropping its newest album, Bambi, just last year. Considering the full house at The Fox, it’s clear listeners should be keeping an eye on Hippo Campus this year.

Starting the show on an amazing note, “Way It Goes” was one of the most energetic performances of the night. Lead singer Jake Luppen hit high octaves flawlessly, especially in the opening verse of the song. Toward the end, he closed the slow chorus with dreamy vocal runs and an explosive stage presence, stepping back from the mic for spirited high-kicks that made the crowd go wild.

On “Vines,” off of the 2017 album Landmark, members Whistler Isaiah Allen and DeCarlo Jackson shined with smooth percussion additions, making them stand out from the back. Although Luppen is the frontman of the band, it seemed as though each member knew when to take up space and when to give center focus to the others. This balance showed the familial essence of the group, and made the performance all the more welcoming and comfortable for audience members.

In a few words, this concert was the biggest swoon-fest The Fox Theater has seen in awhile. The band could’ve literally stood onstage without moving and hoards of passionate fans would still hoot and holler.

One of the slower songs, “Monsoon,” came in during the middle of the set. Jazzy, emotional guitar solos by Luppen and guitarist Nathan Stocker added some spice to the otherwise indie-pop celebration.

The band’s 2015 hit “South” proved to still be a bop, considering everyone in the crowd knew the words and bounced along to the wavy beat. The tambourine thrived here, adding an organic seasoning to the live performance.

“Simple Season” reinforced Luppen’s falsetto skills — the ethereal guitar backing adding to the indie sass in his vocal tones. The fun clapping by audience members added a unifying percussion to the song, built up by the drums to complete the song.

The tone switched dramatically with “No Pomegranates.” This song was lead vocally by Stocker, a fun variation to show how talented and versatile each member of the group is. Jackson also showed off his skills with a flourish of experimental trumpet that added an edgier layer to the band’s image.

“Why Even Try” ended with a theatrical backbend by Luppen, leading up to a burst of sound that fizzled out into the band’s usual smooth vocals and gentle guitar riffs. This paired nicely with the mellow vibe of “Think It Over,” one of the more atmospheric tracks the group has in its catalogue. Almost as if Hippo Campus was performing in front of a calm ocean wave, the crowd lightly swayed to the delicate tune. Between chaotic builds and tranquil verses, Hippo Campus kept listeners on their toes.

Expectedly, the crowd cheered incessantly for an encore. After returning onstage, the band opted for “Buttercup,” a high-energy tune that was perfect to end the night on. Bassist Zach Sutton used all the space he could on his side of the stage, strutting around and enjoying the last moments of the show.

Hippo Campus’s live performance proved to be just as energy-lifting as its recorded music, bringing joy and atmospheric tunes throughout the entirety of the show.

Skylar De Paul covers music. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @skylardepaul.