I love going to concerts alone because it heightens my focus on the surroundings, giving me opportunities to eavesdrop on others’ conversations, take in the crowd demographic, and fully study the band’s stage presence. This is exactly what I did on Monday, November 26, at Pinegrove’s Music Hall of Williamsburg show. Because Music Hall of Williamsburg is an intimate venue with a capacity of 550, including the two tiers above the main pit, the crowd demographic consisted mainly of Pinegrove’s most diehard fans. In the days leading up to the show, I familiarized myself with the band by listening to their past two albums Skylight and Cardinal, but I was in no way prepared for the level of devotion and commitment to Pinegrove that the rest of the fans exhibited at the show. As I later learned through research, these fans call themselves ‘Pinenuts’, and share the same tattoo that Pinegrove frontman, lead vocalist and guitarist Evan Stephens Hall sports on his arm, which also appears on Pinegrove album covers. This drawing depicts an outline of two squares overlapping each other and has become the band’s symbol.
As the venue gradually filled up in the hour or two before the show, through eavesdropping on other people’s conversations I picked up on the level of the Pinenuts’ commitment to the band. I listened to the girl in front of me describe to her friend the ins and outs of the type of food served to patients at the hospital where she works. When they reached a lull in their conversation, the friend looked around to check out how many people had filled in. He then whispered to the girl, “I think that’s Evan’s mom over there.” The girl turned, and pursued this by running over to the blond-haired woman and shouting, “Are you Evan’s mom?” The woman, surprisingly enthusiastic, confirmed this to be true and hugged the girl. They then proceeded to have a ten minute long conversation, which was unfortunately out of my earshot. At this point, many questions were running through my mind, the main one being How do these fans recognize band members’ parents?
Earlier, I was standing next to two men— we were about three rows from the front— and one of them, who had been to a Pinegrove show before, commented on how he felt like they didn’t deserve to be that close to the stage since they don’t know all the words to every song. I hoped he was exaggerating, because I, too, did not know the words to the songs, but as soon as Halls began the opening song the Pinenuts around me were shouting every word, grunt, backup vocal or any verbal noise along with Hall and the band. For the most part, I was more impressed than bothered by the singing of the crowd, but there were a few times I moved away from a Pinenut behind or next to me who was shouting the lyrics so loud that it was negatively obstructing my experience.
Pinegrove started playing through their most recent album Starlight, and since the Pinenuts have the track listings of these albums memorized, they would often start singing the song while Hall was still switching guitars in between songs. Before I realized the band was doing a track-by-track, I was confused by how the fans were able to start the intro of each song without Hall. However small a fanbase might be, I was wrong to underestimate the intensity of their devotion to Pinegrove, which was almost matched to that of Bruce Springsteen’s fans. I’d like to further investigate what qualities of certain bands or musicians lead them to have such obsessive fans.
Aside from observing the Pinenuts, experiencing Pinegrove’s music live was highly memorable. With a talent for writing, Hall’s songs are deeply personal and reflective, and seem more like stories or journal entries, with specific memories, anecdotes, and details sprinkled throughout. His conversational vocals combined with his guitar playing are reminiscent of Ryan Adams & The Cardinals’s sound on their 2005 album Cold Roses, and paired with Nick Levine’s smooth lap steel guitar, many of the songs had a country fusion. The band had great chemistry, with the drummer Zack Levine and Nick being brothers. Nick switched between an electric guitar and a lap steel guitar, often within the same song; he was so focused on his instruments that it seemed as though he didn’t even realize he was onstage. His loose and comfortable vibe contrasted the other guitarist Sam Skinner who was too aware of being onstage, as his movements were more stiff and uneasy than those of the Levine brothers and Hall. One of the highlights of the show was when Nandi Rose Plunkett, who left Pinegrove to pursue her own project Half Waif, came onstage to harmonize with Hall for the encore. She tripled the band’s energy by jumping around stage and putting her entire body into every note she sang.
Halfway through the set Hall thanked everyone for coming to the show and described Pinegrove’s goal as spreading the message of “love, empathy, and introspection”, three elements which are expressed through their thoughtful music and clearly resonate with their fans. Seeing them live proved to be one of the more special shows I’ve experienced— the intimacy and intensity was unmatched, an atmosphere created by the venue, the fans, the band members, and, of course, the sound.
Illustration by Janie Peacock