“I’d rather be the dying than the rising sun,” sang the members of Grouplove at the Hamilton on Wednesday night. But their smiles, bobbing heads and generally chirpy demeanor indicated they are way more like sunrise people.
And why wouldn’t they be?
The Los Angeles-based quintet is riding high on the momentum of a new album while enjoying the relative luxury of being able to promote that disc, “Spreading Rumors,” on a tour of (slightly) nontraditional venues.
So the premise behind the show at the Hamilton — the rather plush 14th and F venue in Northwest Washington — was an acoustic performance of Grouplove’s up-tempo pop/rock. (The band played a “regular” show at U Street Music Hall the previous evening.) And it delivered on the concept, peeling back the shiny veneer of their songs to reveal a raw earthiness and sturdy folk-rock foundation that occasionally soared when their voices coalesced on such songs as “Ways to Go” and “Itchin’ on a Photograph.”
Led by singer/guitarist Christian Zucconi and vocalist Hannah Hooper, the band — which includes drummer Ryan Rabin, guitarist Andrew Wessen and bassist Sean Gadd (who kind of broke the acoustic rule by playing electric bass) — was loose-limbed and upbeat throughout. The members swapped instruments and took turns adding color via grand piano.
The sit-down-and-observe vibe at the Hamilton may have slightly dampened the audience reaction, but the group danced around the stage joyfully through most of the 80-minute performance, clearly infused with the energy of playing the kind of room in which it doesn’t often perform.
The set built smartly toward a climax performance of “Colours,”the group’s best-known song, but the journey to get there was a revealing look at what’s behind the studio gloss and pop sheen.
Propelled by Zucconi’s guitar and the hard kick of Rabin’s backbeat, you could easily imagine such songs as “Schoolboy” and “Close Your Eyes and Count to Ten” as outtakes from a long-lost Small Faces session — or a sweet fan letter to Edie Brickell’s “Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars.”
“Cruel and Beautiful World” and “Tongue Tied” both came alive under the lighter arrangements, with Hooper’s vocals adding a glistening layer. And prior to the colorful finish — and no encore, which both band and fans seemed a bit perturbed by — there was a vibrant version of “Lovely Cup” and a sparkling cover of Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You In the End.” The latter might have been the night’s peak, as well as coming closest to achieving the purpose of an out-of-the-norm acoustic set: watching Grouplove with its guard down and soaking up the joy of musicians playing without reservation.
Foster is a freelance writer.