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Words and Photos: Grouplove / Blackstarkids at Liberty Hall

Grouplove. Photo by Aaron Rhodes.
Date: September 22, 2021

Liberty Hall - Lawrence, KS

First off, some critical transparency: I attended this concert due to it being Blackstarkids' first area show since their signing to Dirty Hit during the pandemic (this was their third local show total so far). I'm not one to let a concert ticket go to waste however, so knowing only three of Grouplove's earlier singles ("Colours, "Tongue Tied," and "Itchin' On A Photograph") and not considering myself much of a fan beyond that, I looked on from the balcony for their 90 minute performance (after shooting photos of the first three songs up front).

What's hard to deny is that Grouplove is capable of a highly engaging live performance. The Los Angeles band released its first album a decade ago and have clearly honed their style of high-octane indie pop during that time. The interplay between the band's two main vocalists, husband and wife Christian Zucconi and Hannah Hooper, is fun to watch -- Hooper at one point assisted Zucconi in standing on his head and they would occasionally stare each other down as they sang in unison at various points throughout the show. The band's opening number, "Deleter," burst with synth-fueled, dance pop joy -- off to the races. Early set guitar solos were also executed with precision.

The show, for me, lost its luster halfway through the main set. Before jumping into the back half of the show, either Hooper or Zucconi (I forget which) paused to declare that "Grouplove is bigger than this band. It's the entire room." The hippie-dippie sentiments continued soon after as one of the two told the crowd that there's no such thing as "bad art" and that next time they (the crowd) find themselves aimlessly scrolling social media, they should simply smoke some pot and start drawing instead. My rebuttal: after touring the world and making music for over 10 years, I'm more than certain that the band has encountered some pretty bad art (I know I have). 


The electricity the band had been performing with evaporated during the dull acoustic slowburn of "Oxygen Swimming." The onomatopoeia pop of "I'm With You" may have been enjoyable if I hadn't just received a K-12 art class pep talk beforehand. "Tongue Tied" went over well, but "Welcome To Your Life" veered back into cornier territory. Though I grew tired of Grouplove by the end of the band's set, I do feel somewhat certain they are superior writers and performers relative to many of their contemporaries.


This Blackstarkids opening set came roughly a week into their run supporting Grouplove and three days after their set on the final day of Riot Fest in Chicago (likely the largest audience they've played to yet). There are still some kinks that need to be worked out in their live show, but there's an immense level of potential there once the band is firing on all cylinders. The main issues were Gabe, Ty, and Deiondre's clean vocals not coming out all that loud most of the time. I'm not sure if this is an issue of improper mixing or the members not projecting their vocals well enough (or perhaps a mixture of both). The only other inhibiting factor was that when drummer Jack's electronic drum pads were in use (he opted for his traditional kit on several songs, which all sounded great), the kick was overpowering while the snare and cymbals weren't very audible.

Sonic particulars aside, the group already has a stronger stage presence than most artists their age. All three spent time skipping and jumping around the stage (though Deiondre was often stationed with his guitar by his mic stand -- his falsetto vocals were dazzling) while Jack and keyboard player Jerry held things down behind them. Any song involving rapping or shouting came through the speakers clear as day; "Love, Stargirl" was predictably a highlight. The throwback R&B grooves of "Friendship" also translated exceptionally to the live setting -- the group prompted fans to hug and appreciate any friends they came with before the song started. "Tangerine Love" allowed Ty's signature downbeat, deadpan vocal flow a well-earned moment in the spotlight. "All Cops Are Bastards*," a single from the band's upcoming album, was another highlight -- an anti-cop pop-rock song being performed at an indie show will always win points with me, especially when the song itself rocks.

The band's 40 minute set came to a close with "Acting Normal," a fine choice because it played on nearly all of the band's strengths. I'd enjoyed the song on previous listens, but in this moment it felt anthemic. Though most fans weren't losing their minds, BSK won a clap-along, multiple wave-alongs, and hearty applause throughout the set. (Considering that Grouplove broke out in the early '10s, I'm not sure how much of the slightly older crowd at this show has kept up with new music, or if Blackstarkids would even be on the radar of the average Grouplove fan if this was the case, but I would be curious to know what percentage of the audience knew BSK is from the metro.) As the set came to a close, the group all ran at each other and embraced -- I don't think I've seen a group of people this happy after a set in a very long time. I'm happy for them.

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