Synthpop group TOPS stops, drops and rolls at The Independent

Photo of TOPS at her concert
Can Jozef Saul/Staff

Related Posts

Stage acrobatics, shoeless singers and a reflective flute could all be found at San Francisco’s The Independent the night of Nov. 15. TOPS, a four-piece sophisto-pop group, graced the stage for a set full of laughter and lightness. 

With TOPS nearing the end of their Party Again tour, hitting almost 30 American cities, The Independent welcomed the group with open arms. Leading up to TOPS’ descent to the stage, Sean Nicholas Savage charmed the socks off the crowd — although he himself had none on — with his clear vocals and a personality that was second to none. 

The Montreal-based menagerie moved with such fluid synchronization, as the band actualized their decade-long partnership onstage. While TOPS may be named titans of the Canadian indie scene, the band left plenty of room for simple fun and quips amongst themselves and with the crowd. Not taking themselves too seriously, the group’s friendship spread out from the stage, and from the floor, audience members looked up at what seemed like a university room jam session. 

The stage swelled with constant giggles from lead singer Jane Penny, who would switch from galloping gaiety to serious serenity at the beat of drummer Riley Fleck’s snare. David Carriere joined Penny on guitar, and consistently delivered poignant riffs and groovy melodies, especially during “OK Fine Whatever” off of the band’s 2020 album I Feel Alive. The keys and harmonies from Marta Cikojevic added a dynamic flair to each track, with the synth-like sound creating a solid foundation.  

A definite showstopper was the performance of “Witching Hour,” where Penny’s vocals melted from wispy wandering to a harsher, deeper drawl. The backing tempo picked up, as Penny outstretched her arms in a wide proclamation. The pure power Penny brought to this track, which already stands as a demonstration of TOPS’ range, had the crowd in a trance, with more audience members switching from subtle sway to jovial jump. 

Savage returned to the stage and joined his former Silly Kissers collaborators, for a duet with Penny that had the crowd in a comedic tizzy, the two singers messing around with mic stands and prancing to their heart’s content. Penny’s many flute solos were wonderful surprises, although she almost teased the crowd by dancing with the instrument for half a track before raising it to her lips and issuing forth a deep sonic fluttering.

The natural interludes of “Waiting” provided the perfect opportunity for Penny to introduce the band, as the track’s almost elevator-music sound let the group, and the crowd, breathe amid a stacked setlist. Each member of the group seemed to never miss a beat, showcasing their professionalism which turned even more impressive considering the personality the group also infused into the evening. 

During one track, as Penny crooned out the final notes set to a stage filled with silence, the other members held back and instead took a synchronized sip from beer cans. The image of the group pre-meditating this move delighted the audience, and whoops and hollers rose from the buzzing mass of bodies. 

For their signature song, “Way To Be Loved,” TOPS decided to forgo an introduction, springing straight into the track with gusto. Unsurprisingly, the group did not disappoint, and even the members of the crowd unfamiliar with TOPS’ wider discography were singing along to their heart’s content.  

Everything went tops-up at the end of the night, as Penny dropped to the ground and rolled across the stage — before landing perfectly in line with a beer and taking the most sophisticated sip imaginable. Penny’s zany energy followed a full set of her moving with grace and eloquently belting out ballads, which proved refreshing and completely unexpected. When Penny left the stage a tad unannounced following the encore track, no one seemed to question it considering her established spontaneity. 

TOPS delivered a performance that stunned in both terms of musicality and memorability. Their charisma was unbounded; unique performance elements paired with many surprises made for a weird yet wonderful evening, one which felt like an endearing reunion between the group and the opportunity to play live once more.  

Contact Francesca Hodges at [email protected]. Tweet her at @fh0dges.