New Jersey indie band Pinegrove drifted onto the stage of The Fillmore shrouded in blue light and the tiny refractions from a collection of chandeliers. Pinegrove’s six-person band, dressed in stark whites and grays, took the time to feel comfortable in its temporary onstage home. Behind the band hung the cover of its most successful effort, Cardinal, the two overlapping squares of the album art enlarged on a crisp banner.
It was apparent that Pinegrove is still reflecting on the sexual coercion allegations connected to frontman Evan Stephens Hall in 2017. The group’s newest album, Marigold, is the first time Pinegrove has written fresh material since the band went on hiatus. Some fans, especially those who show up at the band’s concerts, still grapple with the challenging news and, moving forward, have to reconcile what their relationship with the band looks like.
The night’s mood was kind and quiet as the crowd used Pinegrove’s mellow sounds to approach the upcoming work week. The group launched into “Old Friends,” a buoyant pseudo-country ode to the people we can’t make time for but still care about. What was immediately noticeable was how much fuller and richer the band sounded live compared to its studio output. Hall’s usual reedy and wavering timbre was imbued with confidence inspired by the sold-out crowd. Behind Hall was the band’s drummer and co-founder, Zack Levine, whose thunderous bass drum provided warmth and a heartbeat, sustaining the entire set.
After every few songs, Hall would approach the microphone and politely ask the audience if “Everyone was doing well?” or something to that effect, making sure the crowd was prepared for the self-aware lyrics that are the foundation of Pinegrove. The audience rang with positivity after each check-in from the band, imploring Pinegrove to travel further down the road of loss, regret, discovery and hope that the group offers on so many occasions.
Pinegrove is not known for having a particularly heavy sound that results in wild dancing or ferocious energy. Rather, the niche mood the band fills invoked a slight sway from fan’s heels as they kept their attention trained on what was transpiring onstage. The people were in tune with the passion emerging from each voice crack, guitar solo and bass groove. Many fans would belt out their favorite lines from songs like “No Drugs” and “Aphasia,” adding themselves as temporary band members for a line or two before falling back into the swaying crowd. The community surrounding Pinegrove’s music is structured around expressing vulnerability and introspection.
There was no real attempt at bombastic showmanship from Pinegrove, which is to be expected from an emo-folk outfit. The band was comfortable with what it offered in depressingly melodic songs, and let the audience members decide for themselves how to react to each piece. The entire night felt mature, a period in which growth was encouraged but not pressed upon the listeners. After Pinegrove finished the hit song “Angelina,” Hall announced that the band would proceed into the encore without any of the fanfare usually associated with going off and coming back onstage.
The band finished strong with the whimsical “Visiting,” which had a fluttering, airy quality supplemented by garage rock guitars and drums. The band then calmly left the stage in the same manner it had entered, and the night reverted into an average February moonscape in San Francisco. Still, the energy the band provided hung in the room until every crowd member quietly packed their emotions together and exited down The Fillmore’s stairs. When all was said and done, Pinegrove truly left a reminder to always find the extraordinary in the normal — and to never miss a moment of life.
Highlights: “Spiral,” “Dotted Line,” “Neighbor”
Contact Jake Lilian at [email protected].