A few weeks ago, my lovely wife took me to see Grouplove at the House of Blues. It was a birthday present she gave me over the summer. It was a thoughtful gift because this band has become a staple in my typical daily playlist.
I hadn’t been to a show on Landsdowne Street since it was still known as Avalon. Didn’t know what to expect as to the venue, but it definitely exceeded expectations. Our tickets were for standing room on the ground floor I don’t know maybe 30 or 40 rows away from the stage, if seats actually existed down there .
We grabbed beers (tall boy Harpoon for me - solid) and caught the tail end of the opening act. Then we waited patiently with our fellow attendees. They were mostly twentysomethings who interact with their friends by standing in packs while staring down at their smartphones, then briefly looking up to speak a sentence before returning their gaze downward to their devices - faces aglow in blue light. By contrast, Shell and conversed using only our voices. Our phones were safely stowed away in pockets on vibrate mode, just in case the babysitter needed to reach us.
My excitement was building for lots of reasons. Mostly, I just love this band. In addition, though, Shell and I hadn’t been to a concert together since I think Ray Lamontagne back when she was preggo with Greta. Plus, this was a date on a school night(!) if you can believe that, so that in and of itself was an aggressive move by two suburban parents floating in a sea of millennials.
A young couple in front of us asked me to take their picture while we waited for the band to take the stage. I was pretty sure I nailed the shot but then we saw them later taking about a dozen selfies or so and posting all of them to Instagram, which leads me to believe they weren’t particularly satisfied with my shot. I think we saw the same couple fiercely frenching each other later on in the show, which may or may not have been streamed to Facebook Live.
Anyway, Grouplove released a new album recently, so I wasn’t sure what if any of the songs I would recognize once they started playing. While I’m a fan, I’m not a superfan. In this day and age where I literally haven’t bought an album or a song for years (sorry to all musicians) because of Youtube, Spotify, and Pandora, I admit I rarely even recall names of songs anymore. I hear the music. I like it. I add it to a playlist. But without that physical handling of a CD case, it’s rare that I commit anything other than the band name to memory.
When the band ultimately took the stage and actually started to play, I was a blank canvas. Down in my insides, I really hoped they’d play a few of my favorites, which were all familiar songs from prior years. Still, it isn’t fair to have any expectations about what a band should play when they are on tour for a new album. Understandably, they would be jazzed to play any new stuff live.
When the first notes played, I was overcome by sensory overload - in a good way. We were much closer to the musicians than I expected to be. The stage design and lighting were really cool. I felt myself getting locked in. And they opened with a familiar song “I’m With You.”
Here’s a little clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_kTUWrtDKiU.
My go-to head bob and mild shoulder shimmy kicked into gear thanks to a Pavlovian muscle memory response to good tunes. It was all systems go from there. I bopped around, I jumped up and down, and sang along enthusiastically and without self-consciousness. I yelled my approval with applause at the end of every song.
The set list was kind of like that perfect menu of tapas for my auditory appetite at that moment. For the record: http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/grouplove/2016/house-of-blues-boston-ma-23fae043.html.
As for the quality of the music, I thought Grouplove was superb. Let’s be honest, as much as these musicians are artists, they are still doing a job to an extent. On a given day, any one of us - artists or not - may find ourselves in a zone where we just don’t want to be doing our job in that moment. To their credit, Grouplove made no impression other than being locked in for the ride.
They sounded super tight. As much as I love live performances precisely for those moments of imperfection, I can’t remember anything wonky or distracting.
The band members are consummate rock stars, each with their own quirky “look” in clothes and hair and movement and style and sound. I love bands that have men and women singing. I love bands when the lead singer plays an instrument. I love bands with keyboards. I love bands with positive energy. I love when bands play a cover of other songs that I like. (We got a sweet cover of the Beasties’ “Sabotage” that night.) Grouplove had it all.
I swear I’m not aiming for hyperbole here. I just had such a fucking great time.
I smiled. I danced. I sang along. I escaped my life’s worries for a couple of hours. If I was in any kind of funk before the show, I was out of that place afterwards. What else could you ask for?