The last thing I expected to hear at a Grouplove concert was Skrillex and ASAP Rocky’s “Wild for the Night” but for some reason it seemed to be the perfect soundtrack to the band’s entrance. Dancing wildly and hyping the crowd to the beats and bleats of the track, the five musicians had whipped the sold-out Independent crowd into a high-energy frenzy before they played a single note.
After touring more or less constantly since its inception in 2009, Grouplove is a well-oiled machine on stage. Every member bounces around with frenetic energy, never standing still for a moment. Vocalist and keyboardist Hannah Hooper was all hair, headbanging, whipping around, and running in place in a leopard print unitard as frontperson Christian Zucconi (clad in a bathrobe and Grateful Dead tee) furiously strummed, jumped, and bumped into everyone around him. By comparison, bassist Sean Gadd, guitarist Andrew Wessen, and drummer Ryan Rabin almost seemed demure, despite their own dancing and roaming around the stage.
Even at its most energetic, however, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Grouplove was phoning it in. Being this well-oiled touring machine has detracted from the raw electricity of its early performances. Even the new material, which the band played much of, fell flat. No amount of jumping screaming, and running could hide the fact that the group, frankly, seemed tired.
Though Grouplove has a handful of really great, catchy tunes (especially 2011 single “Tongue Tied”) its strength has always been in its live presence. It’s not that its Saturday show at the Independent was bad — Grouplove has just set the bar incredibly high with its previous tours. Even in this slightly watered down form, however, one thing reads clear — the amorous bond that Grouplove is named for. The group is constantly interacting with each other, lighting up with smiles, leaning into each other, and feeding off of each other’s presence.
Grouplove has a miraculous and fateful backstory, starting with the chance meeting of Hooper and Zucconi in New York. Hooper, feeling an immediate bond, invited Zucconi to drop everything and join her on an artists’ residency later that week in Crete, where the pair met the three musicians who would ultimately make up the rest of Grouplove. Since that serendipitous meeting, the five relocated to LA and have rarely left each other’s sides. It is this genuine group love that makes the band’s joyful noise so infectious and endearing. Despite the flat, forced feeling of their set, it was clear that the band was happy to be there, and happy to be with each other.
During the encore, a few little miracles happened to turn the night’s energy around. First, a man proposed to his girlfriend onstage, prompting screams from the audience and a few tears, high fives, and a group hug from Grouplove. Second, members of Morning Benders (now POP ETC) and Waters joined Grouplove to play the POP ETC’s “I Woke Up Today.”
By the time the band got to its last song, the slow-building, hyper-catchy “Colours” the entire room had exploded with dancing, signing, and the kind of energy that got Grouplove its reputation for being an unmissable live band.
As the show closed, the previously silent Wessen leaned into the microphone and said, with heartwarming earnestness, “San Francisco, we love you so, so much. You have no idea.”