Hop Along are steadily building a reputation in America as one of the most impressive underground bands around. Despite this, they have yet to reach the same level of cult status here in the UK. However, their first headline European tour since the release of the tremendous ‘Bark Your Head Off, Dog’ may change this.
Hop Along started life as Frances Quinlan’s cutely eccentric solo project which was known as ‘Hop Along, Queen Ansleis’. Following this she shortened the name and expanded the sound by adding band members. This includes the talents of twinkly-guitar specialist Joe Reinhart from legendary Philadelphia band Algernon Cadwallader. Three critically rated studio albums have since followed and they have continued to evolve their indie, folk, grunge and pop influenced sound. They laid bare the full force of their textural complexity as they left their mark on the Community Room at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds.
Opening on the night was Boston’s Sidney Gish whose second LP ‘No Dogs Allowed’ brought her into greater prominence. Her dream-pop ideals and lo-fi background combining into an album of foot-tapping lyrically clever indie classics. It’s a great time to be a talented female artist in indie. The likes of Snail Mail, Soccer Mommy, Julien Baker and Stella Donnelly are lighting up the scene and Sidney Gish’s reputation will continue to grow as with just a guitar and a loop pedal she easily captured the crowd with the likes of ‘Sin Triangle’ and ‘Not but for You, Bunny’.
Shortly afterwards Hop Along arrived on stage with a beautifully designed backdrop behind them. With no hesitation, the room filled with noise of the opening chords of ‘Waitress’. Almost every piece of writing about Hop Along makes a point of highlights how impressive Quinlan’s vocals are. However, it became evident that it would be impossible to resist repeating this. Particularly when her beautifully strained shout of ‘The world’s gotten so small and embarrassing’ was followed by the devastating chorus in the set opener. It’s an impressive vocal range to hear on a studio album, but hearing it in person was awe-inspiring.
They then relaxed the mood somewhat with ‘Somewhere a Judge’ and ‘The Fox in Motion’. The texturally impressive tracks from ‘BYHOD’ highlighted the high standard of musicianship on show. The intricate guitar lead lines blended effortlessly with the Quinlan’s vocals and rhythm guitar, plus the tight rhythms from the drums and bass parts.
Afterwards was a throwback to the Hop Along’s first LP ‘Get Disowned’ with the contrasting moods of ‘Laments’. Then there was an emphatic cheer from the crowd as the opening lines to ‘How Simple’. The lead single from ‘BYHOD’ features one of the most irresistible choruses of 2018 with its bouncing bassline behind the crowd sing along line of “Don’t worry, we will both find out but not together”. It’s fair to say they faithfully reproduced the exquisite studio version, down to Reinhart’s whammy bar abusing solo.
The highlights from ‘BYHOD’ continued with the two parted ‘Not Abel’. The unique instrumental arrangments combined with Old Testament references make this one of the most compelling songs they’ve released. The crowd had barely had a chance to take it all in. Then the second part kicked in with its rocking rhythm guitar hits and intricate arpeggiated lead lines. Although it’s not another sing along classic, it’s one of the clearest indications that Hop Along are evolving beyond their DIY and underground roots through their musical ingenuity and lyrical creativity.
Following this was a return to crowd favourites from ‘Painted Shut’. The restrained ‘Horseshoe Crabs’ included Reinhart’s lead line which sounds as difficult as it looks to play, but he wandered around the stage playing it effortlessly. Then we experienced the full force of Hop Along’s sound with the massive ‘Texas Funeral’ and ‘I Saw My Twin’.
The main part of their set ended with the closing songs from their last two albums. ‘Sister Cities’ is another genre-defying classic with its pop-punk and alt-country influences. The driving jaunty rhythms built up to Quinlan shouting the heart-breaking climax of “I know you had to shoot that dog I loved so much. I know you had to do it” and left the room breathless. They then went into ‘Prior Things’ which opened with delicately intimate guitars and breathy vocals. It then progressed and built into a thickly layered collage of sound and arpeggios.
Tibetan Pop Stars
Hop Along then treated the crowd to a fan favourite when they returned to the stage. ‘Tibetan Pop Stars’ was described as “the most painfully beautiful song ever” by Mark Hoppus. Unsurpringly, it has remained a mainstay in their set lists over the years. The lyrics are both devastating and funny, and they combine brilliantly with the signature emo-influenced, genre-mashing sound that had led to three incredible albums.
There was a brief throwback to Quinlan’s earlier folk sound in ‘Well-dressed’ as her vocals soared above her acoustic guitar. Then the full band then joined her and the song raced into its anthemic refrain. For all of Frances’ lyrical genius, the ‘do do do’ was one of the great moments of the night. Adding to this was the crowd emphatically joining in (although not quite hitting the high notes as exquisitely).
They closed out the set with ‘The Knock’, the opening track from ‘Painted Shut’. You could hear the influence of riffs from ‘Some Kind of Cadwallader‘ in Reinhart’s guitar stabs. This rolled on alongside Frances’ repeated calls of “the witness just wants to talk to you” before the instrumentals united in one final powerful assault on the crowd.
It was obvious after this show that they’ll continue to receive critical acclaim and plaudits from their impressive studio work and captivating live shows. Although the mainstream has been slow to catch on to the work Hop Along have been doing, it feels as though a breakthrough away from familiar scenes is only around the corner and their work will be appreciated by much larger crowds soon.
Browse Away From Hop Along
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