The Midwest may be experiencing a polar vortex, but its exports brought a glowing warmth to downtown Phoenix’s The Van Buren on Tuesday when Minnesota acts Now, Now and Hippo Campus gathered the cool kids for a night of showing off new music. And, for fans who had seen the artists before, it was a chance to proudly witness major growth in a new environment.
From their opening notes, Now, Now were ready to have a good time. Surprisingly, given their fuzzy indie sonics that are perfect for long walks with headphones in, the translation to live versions was seamless and fun. Vocalist Cacie Dalager whipped her bright red ponytail around and couldn’t stop smiling between bops including “MJ” and “SGL.”
The duo is supporting last year’s Saved, and they’re back just a few months after their first headlining tour across the country. As they’ve learned, persistence is key—Dalager and drummer Bradley Hale met in high school and have been releasing music together since 2008—and it paid off when they played to a packed venue.
New single “AZ” was received especially well, a song about the ghosts that haunt us, with sounds reminiscent of a dusty road trip. Repeating lyric “Back to the heart of it all,” Dalager explained, refers to her grandparents who used to live here. And unsurprisingly, the crowd was thrilled about the recognition.
The crowd was, actually, excitable from opener to encore. I’m not sure when Hippo Campus became an overnight teen sensation, but the shrill screams that erupted from the tightly packed barrier indicated an obvious age set—one that sold out the show.
Seeing the tour supporting Bambi was non-negotiable after naming the album one of last year’s bests, and the Hippo Campus boys did not disappoint. Opening with the titular track, there was an immediate sense of maturity since their last visit, and though they never lacked confidence on stage, they seemed to draw energy from playing to so many people and grew into the space.
“We love this town. We’re always treated so well here,” frontman Jake Luppen gushed during the set. He recounted playing Phoenix almost exactly a year ago and showed appreciation for everyone who showed up for them. In that moment, there was that glimpse of awe that makes newer musicians especially endearing.
Although the five piece has only been releasing music together since 2015, they have an astonishing amount of content to draw from. The setlist leaned heavily on Bambi, but the band returned to their roots with favorites “Suicide Saturday,” “baseball,” and encore “Buttercup.” The tempo rose and fell, and during slow tracks, the venue quieted to a low hum while the crowd swayed.
The group is well-oiled as ever. Luppen’s precise vocals soared and whispered, Nathan Stocker’s guitar and Zach Sutton’s bass blended into earworm melodies and Whistler Allen’s drums structured the set. But a delightful surprise: trumpeter DeCarlo Jackson was given center stage to shine and added another musical layer.
With solid live performances and an eager young fan base, Hippo Campus is already poised for stardom, and their ease in a large space proves they’re ready for the inevitable next level.
Story and photos by Taylor Gilliam