My high school design teacher used to always tell us that for an art piece to be truly brilliant, something must be wrong about it. With art, sometimes, you must intentionally design imperfection.
This is the design of Hop Along — a band whose sound is so discordant that it’s utterly beautiful.
At times, the electric guitar was too loud or the drums didn’t have a clear beat. The sweet melodies of songs such as “Look of Love” were punctuated by the screeches of lead singer Frances Quinlan. After the band got more comfortable onstage, however, the music transitioned from uncomfortable white noise to purposeful cacophony.
For its concert Aug. 8 at the Great American Music Hall, the band began with its most popular song off its newest album Bark Your Head Off, Dog, “How Simple.” The song brought the crowd to its feet as audience members recognized the catchy tune, leaving them wanting more.
But the magic of the performance was found in not just its well-known songs, but in Hop Along’s ability to keep concertgoers equally as interested in the less popular songs they may not have noticed before.
At first, the band hadn’t yet adjusted to the acoustics of the venue. When it played “Kids on the Boardwalk” and “The Fox in Motion,” Hop Along didn’t sound like a band, but rather several mismatched noises.
Hop Along really hit its stride when it played “Horseshoe Crabs.” Chrissy Tashjian, lead singer of opening band Thin Lips, accompanied Hop Along onstage, playing a heartbeat-style melody on the keyboard.
In this song, Quinlan switched her tone from slow and steady to fast-paced and frenetic at the drop of a hat. The high parts of the song contrasted the frequent reprieves of soft acoustic guitar and Quinlan’s sweet voice. This range of sounds fit the band’s theme of magical imperfection and tailored inconsistencies perfectly.
Hop Along used standout baseline melodies to start and end almost every song with a punch. The band maintained vibrant energy and kept every song moving, vocals and drums folding in and out at staggered times. Of course, to keep in line with the band’s character, Quinlan never stopped interrupting her own voice with screeches. The beauty of Hop Along was that these interruptions were not unwelcome — they were necessary additions to the songs.
The unique nature of Hop Along was reflected even in the stage layout — Quinlan stood to the side, while bassist Tyler Long stood at the center. Long and lead guitarist Joe Reinhart allowed the band’s performance to soar. Compared with Hop Along’s recorded music, the guitarists assumed a larger presence during the live performance. This, in fact, took the music above and beyond, as Quinlan’s voice was enhanced by the louder instrumentals.
“I Saw My Twin” featured the guitarists’ beautiful sliding notes, providing a galloping rhythm for Quinlan’s vocals to follow. In “Not Abel,” Quinlan used her voice to set a rhythm, creating a syncopated and eerie melody. Toward the end of the show, it became clear that the band made sure to keep a variety of sounds and tunes in its performance. No song sounded similar to the previous one, and each new song surprised the crowd.
“Prior Things,” the last song of the set, spoke to the soul with its running guitar strums. The initial awkwardness of the band dissipated and everything was finally in sync. The baseline of the guitar demanded that it be remembered, even after the song was over. Quinlan’s whole heart was in the melody, especially as she repeated the lyrics “You chose to go” to an attentive and peaceful audience.
When Hop Along started its set with “How Simple,” the band’s most popular song, it felt as though there was nowhere else to go and nothing to look forward to. But this couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Instead, with this overt yet intentional mistake, Hop Along turned the crowd’s attention to its less popular music. This orchestrated and outstanding performance, set to the backdrop of the cozy venue, revealed the true imperfect genius in the band’s design.