At one of the first shows I ever attended unaccompanied by an adult, Warped Tour in Cleveland, I found myself at a rousing Motion City Soundtrack performance. The energy of their performance reached a fever pitch, and the crowd began moshing. As one of my introductory experiences to live music, Warped Tour demonstrated to me that one of live music’s key elements involves audience response. If the crowd expresses discontent, the show resonates with it. One of the (seemingly) clear indicators of such discontent is a stationary crowd, unable to be persuaded to even sway to the sound.
With the rise of smartphones and tighter performance spaces, a motionless audience has become more and more the norm. For many performances, this stillness dampens the mood and forces acts to rouse them. I once saw Little Simz years ago restart her entrance at the Echo because the crowd failed to match her energy. I personally love to move, and live music provides an excellent outlet for such activity. Seeing a crowd remain still while an artist pours their soul out usually makes for a boring, if awkward, situation.
Furthermore, standing idly to music feels a bit unnatural – iPods allowed us to play music while we work, work out, cook, clean, commute, literally any activity. Music, for a long time now, feels like something meant to enhance action, be it dancing, work, or travel. But at a Hop Along and Soccer Mommy performance at LA’s El Rey Theatre last night, I remembered the pleasures of idle listening.
The Nashville-based Soccer Mommy first took to the stage in a cute and relatively simple outfit, the sole outlier being her metallic-tinged footwear. As the case would be this evening, the focus fell on the music. Vocalist Sophie Allison needed only her guitar and words to captivate the crowd. She cycled through numbers off 2018’s well-received Clean, a calm yet intimate album where truths are laid bare without any fanfare. The tranquil crowd hung on every word, especially as she dove into a solo section where she covered Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire”.
“Only what you wanted for a little while," an already heavy admission, impacted much harder when the crowd hung on Allison's every word. She commanded the stage well and solidified her act as something to watch for years to come.
Much like Soccer Mommy, headliners Hop Along also strove for showmanship in the simplest way. Like Allison, they too succeeded. They certainly sounded louder and a bit more abrasive than Soccer Mommy, but even they kept the crowd in a relatively serene state.
By standing still, moving only to tap your foot or bop your head, one felt more in touch with the band's relaxed attitude. I found myself in awe of how easily lead singer Frances Quinlan’s tone switches. Who could focus on dancing when you were listening to someone vocally transition from Glow’s raspy MelRose to the light soprano of Empress Of’s Lorely Rodriguez?
Equally as varied and expansive was the band's set list, which cycled evenly through each of their albums, from last year's Bark Your Head Off Dog to the now seven-year-old (wow) Get Disowned. No matter what track they played, the audience always elicited a thrill which settled into a respectful repose. Truly, the one moment of a bit of thrashing happened at the finale, where"The Knock"'s guitar solo sent Quilan to her knees. This subsequently reminded the crowd that, though it was more relaxed than many, they were still at a rock show.
Growing up as a show choir and K-pop-listening kid, I always associated music with movement. So being reminded to slow down felt a bit unnatural, but it is something I realized I’d always wanted to hear.