By Kara Murray

If you don’t know who Hippo Campus is, allow me to introduce them. Since their official formation in 2013, the Minnesotan indie-rock group has released two albums and four EPs, all while touring almost non-stop. No one can deny they’re one of the hardest-working bands out there today.

After releasing their debut record Landmark in February 2017 and following it up with the EP warm glow later that year, Hippo Campus wasted no time in recording and putting out their sophomore album Bambi in late September 2018, as well as embarking on a supporting tour for it.

I had the privilege of seeing Hippo Campus live at the College Street Music Hall in New Haven last Sunday. They’ve been my favorite band for almost two years now, so when I heard they were going to be so close to me, I knew I had to see them. However, I had trouble finding someone to go with and resigned myself to catching them next time they came around. Thankfully, my friend Marissa also likes their music and was more than happy to go with me last minute. To say I was excited would be an understatement.

One of the best things about Hippo Campus still being an up-and-coming band is that they perform in smaller, more intimate venues. Although College Street does have balcony seats, the concert was General Admission standing room only. And while I have been to concerts in stadiums and arenas, I definitely enjoy being closer to the band and getting a clear view of the stage no matter where I am.

I arrived about an hour before the doors opened and waited in line until it was finally time to go in. Instead of going directly in front of the stage, Marissa and I decided to stand on a part of the floor that was elevated so we could see better and wouldn’t be squished between people. It’s interesting to note that while some write Hippo Campus off as a band “for girls,” there were a lot of boys in the crowd who were enjoying themselves just as much.

The opening act, The Districts, came on around 8:30. I had never heard of them before and was pleasantly surprised by their performance. They only played a handful of songs, but due to their length, they were onstage for almost an hour. Originally from Pennsylvania, they had a more grungy, garage-rock sound, similar to bands like Twin Peaks or Dr. Dog. All of the members had an extremely lively stage presence, dancing while they played and joking with the audience about getting some New Haven pizza after they were finished. Opening bands don’t usually thrill me, but The Districts definitely succeeded in getting the crowd excited for the main act.

Hippo Campus finally took the stage around 9:45, walking out to the familiar opening notes of the new album’s title track, “Bambi.” Lead vocalist and guitarist Jake Luppen came out first, followed by bassist Zach Sutton, and then Nathan Stocker, who also shares the guitar and vocals with Luppen. Last to come out was drummer Whistler Allen and DeCarlo Jackson, who plays both trumpet and some percussion.

From the second they came onstage, Hippo Campus never brought anything less than 100 percent.

They played a mix of songs from their two albums as well as some fan favorites from their past EPs: South (2015), Bashful Creatures (2015) and warm glow (2017). They didn’t stop to talk very much, preferring to just launch from one song into the next, but that just made it clear that they were all there to put on an awesome show.

Don’t let that give you the wrong impression, though; when they did speak to the crowd, they were funny and friendly. The entire concert was almost like hanging out with friends: Allen, Jackson, Luppen, Stocker and Sutton have known each other since high school, so their chemistry onstage was easy and effortless. They laughed and did silly dance moves while performing, and it was obvious that this was what they loved doing more than anything.  

Throughout the night, the atmosphere in the venue was always fun and energetic. The lights on stage changed colors constantly, emphasizing the happy, carefree vibe of the show. Everyone in the crowd sang along with the band, and I never stopped dancing once. I was especially excited when they played my personal favorite off of their new album—”Honestly,” a song I didn’t think they were going to do. I took a few videos on my phone to look at later, but for the most part I just enjoyed the music and took advantage of the moment. The show was a little short since they didn’t take many breaks, but they did play 17 songs, so it was definitely a case of quality over quantity.

Hippo Campus smartly ended their set with “Buttercup,” a song full of fast, upbeat guitar and catchy lyrics. Sutton once said it’s his favorite song to play because it “goes frickin’ H.A.M.,” and he’s absolutely right: “Buttercup” was by far a fan favorite that had the entire audience jumping around and singing at the top of their lungs.

Of course, they had to come back on for an encore, and that song didn’t disappoint either: they chose “Violet” from their South EP, which also happens to be another one of my favorites. Hearing it was a little bittersweet, because while I love it, I was also sad that the show was coming to an end.

Although I’ve been to a fair amount of concerts, I can safely say that Hippo Campus was one of the best live performances that I’ve ever seen. It’s not uncommon for bands to sound good on their album, but not hold up in concert; however, this was not the case here. From start to finish, Hippo Campus put on a show that was worthy of stadiums and arenas everywhere—which should tell you a lot about them, considering they were only playing to about 200 people.