Sunday, February 22, 2015

Concert Review: Smallpools won't be "Small" for Long

In the student center at Hamline University in St. Paul, the enthusiastic four-piece Smallpools got ready for their first gig of the year backstage.  "Backstage" is a loose term here, where the performers are fully visible behind a mobile stage set-up for Saturday night's Winter Wonderland show. The show was put on by Hamline's student-led radio station.  With only a self-titled EP and two singles released to their name, Smallpools has managed to garner support from an American audience.  The California-based group formed in 2013 and have been known best for their indie pop song Dreaming which made it to the top 24 on Billboard's Alternative Songs chart

Lead singer Sean Scanlon on keyboard during Bruce Lee
The audience consisted of mostly Hamline college students or college students that lived in the Minneapolis area.  My friends Clarissa, Jane and I were one of the only high schoolers at the gig, I'd have to say.  Crowd-goers ranged from die-hard fans that "couldn't wait to see their favorite band perform live" to students hanging on the fringes of the stage, just wanting to have a good time. The Winter Wonderland show consisted of three acts: Step Rockets, YONAS and (of course) Smallpools.  

The opening act, Step Rockets is a local Minneapolis indie rock band that I had high hopes for.  A local indie band, yes please(!!!) And, quite frankly, I was a little disappointed.  They were unfamiliar to me and their lyrics didn't grasp that familiarity that would win me over when seeing them live.  They knew what they were doing, but the guitar-playing overpowered the vocals.  I couldn't really figure out what the singer was saying, which is pretty critical to understand an opening band and what their about.  I did dig the song Kisser which I looked up on ze web when I got home, which I dig (a significant amount) now I that I can hear the lyrics with less guitar.  The video is pretty swiggity as well, featuring the band playing in an aquarium. 

Don't get me started on YONAS.  I'm not sure what to make of his songs, but boy was he entertaining.  I had no idea what to expect from this solo rap artist, let alone expect how much I enjoyed his performance.  In addition to a few pieces of his original work, YONAS creatively played popular radio hits such as Take Me to Church over the speakers while he rapped over them.  This worked to his benefit, as it made the audience feel like they knew his work and would sing along.  His songs ranged from these covers to more self-centered songs like YONAS where he spelled his name out for the duration of a song.  Yikes.  He seemed to be trying a little "too hard" in my opinion to win over the audience, with actions such as pouring out a water bottle over the crowd and reiterating who he was over & over, but there was no arguing about how passionate he was. #Yonasnation.

Joe Intile tuning in between Mason Jar and American Love
Smalllllpoooooools.  This was the act all had been anticipating and they delivered.  After walking onto the stage, they quickly dove into their short Intro piece which sounded like a heavier version of an orchestra tune-up featuring the drummer Beau Kuther and confident lead-singer-with-majestic-hair Sean Scanlon conducting the audience with a baton.  Other members of the band include curly-haired bass guitarist Joe Intile and enthusiastic guitarist Mike Kamerman who flailed around stage with his dance moves.

Early on their set, songs off their EP No Story Time and Over & Over won the crowd over with the same energy in their original recordings.  A few more unfamiliar songs Bruce Lee and Dying 2 Live were a relief that Smallpools can deliver more than just their songs off their EP.  Some songs in the middle, Picture and Cover (Real Hero) felt like filler pieces, but were enjoyable to listen to (just not an all-out dance party like the other songs).  That being said, the last 5 songs in the set were killer.  Mason Jar and Killer Whales were crowd favorites, fit with an amusing story as to how the song Killer Whales came to be.  Sean talked about how early on, the band would *shamelessly* search their name on the Internet to see what people were saying, but all they would find were articles about this group of environmentalists that were saying how killer whales shouldn't be kept in small pools. Yes. They ended their set with Dreaming, which was a satisfying dance party.  



Overall, the band was light-hearted and didn't take anything too seriously.  The show had a few technical errors like Sean's mike stand falling over or his keyboard switching to a weird setting in the middle of song, but these minor details didn't seem to phase them.  I personally think moments like this make live music what it is.  It makes music more real, ya feel??? The student center was a make-shift venue, but it worked well.  The show wasn't seamless, lighting at the venue blinded me at times- not taking into account my sensitive eyes- but it was a highly impressive student-lead show.   I am definitely getting involved with a student radio at whichever college I decide to attend. Definitely.

With clear vocals and straight-forward sunny guitar riffs (similar to that of Walk the Moon or Bad Suns) leading up to intoxicating indie pop choruses, Smallpools was a satisfying headliner.  Smallpools is used to the opening band slot, but are moving into the headlining category with a tour for their upcoming Love Tap album this spring.  (I love Smallpools but I really wish they picked a different name for their album. Sadness.)  I wasn't drop-dead stunned by their performance like I was with Hozier, but I was left wanting more after their 12-song set.  Killer.

Winter Wonderland ft. Step Rockets, YONAS and Smallpools
February 21st @ Hamline University, St. Paul
Smallpools Discography:  Smallpools EP & singles Killer Whales and Karaoke
Notable Songs: Mason Jar, Over & Over, Dreaming


  1. I love your writing style! xx

  2. I'm always on the lookout for new music and you have such a neat music taste (alt-J are my all time favourite, man), so I'm super excited to keep reading your blog! x

    1. You listen to alt-J(???) Okay. New friend, automatically. Thank you for your kind words, love.

  3. Sounds like a really amazing concert and it's always great to be exposed to new music, so thanks for this post. Will be checking out their music on spotify today at work!

    Rae | love from berlin