Showmanship Comes to the Forefront for Smallpools

Vortex Music Magazine

Supporting their debut album, Smallpools brought their incredible indie pop back to the Wonder Ballroom along with Grizfolk and Hunter Hunted.

Smallpools: Photo by Anna LeeSmallpools: Photo by Anna Lee

Back in November before the release of their first album, Lovetap!, Smallpools performed a coheadlining show with Magic Man at Portland’s Wonder Ballroom. Prior to that performance, I had seen the guys in Smallpools twice: once opening for Walk The Moon in 2013 and then with Neon Trees last June. Both times, I was impressed by their energy and original indie pop sound—obviously enough to come back for their headlining show.

Even if you were impressed by the band’s short opening sets, you’re never truly prepared for what this California group brings to a full set. I left the November show utterly mindblown. From the amazing light design to the energy behind the band and crowd, I was very excited to relive it again in all its glory—especially with their full-length debut finally in our hands.

Hunter Hunted started the show off with a mixture of familiar tracks from their self-titled EP, as well as some new songs that’ll appear on their soon-to-be-released debut album. The crowd’s response was positive—as you’d expect for these affable guys—and one quality of their stage presence stood out to me: their sense of humor.

“Here’s a new one,” said lead singer Michael Garner before premiering one of the new tracks. “Of course, these are all new to you. You’re like, ‘I’ve never heard any of these. I don’t know who you are.’”

Grizfolk took the stage after Hunter Hunted. Having opened for Bastille on the second leg of their latest tour, I’d heard many positive things about them, and they seemed to live up to it all. They have a very unique indie rock sound, combining elements of pop, rock, folk and electronic into something that is their own. Originality is important for an up-and-coming act, and I couldn’t help but notice that a healthy following came out to see them. I see big things in their future based on what I saw at this show.

Nothing, though, could ever top the spectacle that is Smallpools. Both at the November show and this one, the set began with a burst of classical music accompanied by some epic strobes before a leaping entrance by frontman Sean Scanlon.

The Cali band then shot straight into “Over & Over,” a track that originally appeared on their self-titled EP. The ballroom was loud from the beginning, and the energy never died as Smallpools launched right into “Street Fight” from the new record.

Between songs, Scanlon and co. provided the backstory of the album and its tracks, including an explanation of the meaning behind “No Story Time,” a song inspired by a dream he had in which an audience member was trying to assassinate him onstage—listen below.

But, it was the live performances of the band’s recorded material that made the night. Whether it was a well-known and well-loved EP track or a new one from Lovetap!, every song was overloaded with passion and energy, light and sound, and a sweaty, dancing audience feeding off it all. There’s nothing quite like a Smallpools show, and I have no doubt that their return to Portland (hopefully soon) will be no less than this.

You can catch opener Hunter Hunted back in Portland on July 18 coheadlining the Hawthorne Theatre with Young Rising Sons.

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