By Ethan Shanfeld
Anyone who’s been to a Pinegrove show or even listened to their Audiotree session knows they’re better live. The generally subdued lead guitar is sharper and more aggressive. The drums pop with emo influence. The verses are sweetened by melodies not found on their studio albums. And the pedal steel guitar — the driving force behind the band’s signature twang — is at the forefront.
On Tuesday, the indie folk-rock four-piece led by singer-guitarist Evan Stephens Hall surprise-dropped Elsewhere 2, a collection of live recordings from their American winter tour. The album, described by Hall as “a record of the recent past when people could gather together by the hundreds,” was released exclusively on Bandcamp under a pay-what-you-want model. Pinegrove announced that all proceeds will be donated to the MusicCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.
Elsewhere 2 starts out with “Spiral,” the band’s shortest song to date. Self-affirming and neatly poetic, it sings like a mantra (“Drink water / Good posture / Good lighting / Good evening”). This version is slightly slowed down, and the pedal steel adds touches of melancholia. Buttoned up with loud “woos” from the audience, it feels even more meditative.
“The Alarmist” is looser than the Marigold recording, Nick Levine’s pedal steel gliding under Hall’s vocal runs and Sam Skinner’s keys grounding the bridge. The breakdown on the sing-songy “Darkness” is dragged out and heavier, complete with new vocal harmonies. And even the slower “Skylight” is elevated by new textures in the bluegrassy outro.
The math rock-inspired “V” is explosive, with growling guitars accentuating changes in tempo and time signature. There’s also an acoustic rendition of “Phase,” which trades twangy pop-punk for subtle, stripped-down Americana.
The strongest cut on the album is “Rings,” heightened by a faster tempo and unrelenting drumbeat. By the end of the second verse, the chiming pedal steel morphs into a frenetic alarm, and Hall’s voice trembles with urgency. The song, about coping with insecurities and becoming vulnerable in a new relationship, reaches an uneasy emotional climax as drummer Zack Levine holds steady while the rest of the band slows down. The result is an anxious sonic friction that isn’t resolved until the drums fade out in resignation and Hall sings gently, “Let me finally let it fall away.” It’s a sigh of relief — a commitment to openness — that translates clearer in person.
Pinegrove sign off with “Aphasia,” which, when put after “Rings,” fits somewhat like a sequel. Where “Rings” is rushed and apprehensive (“Telling you things you don’t need to know”), “Aphasia” — about finding comfort in independence — is laid back and secure (“So satisfied, I said a lot of things tonight”). From the finger-picked intro to the main riff to Josh Marre’s wailing slide solo at the end, the song showcases the band’s diverse guitar talents. Sporadically scaling back the instrumentation, Hall nearly levels his voice with the audience’s at times. Lyrics like, “One day I won’t need your love / One day I won’t define myself by the one I’m thinking of” are meant to be sung by hundreds of people in what Hall dubs “the first person plural… the communal I.”
“It’s very surreal and nearly heartbreaking to hear now,” Hall wrote on Bandcamp, reminiscing about the various sounds of live music. But Elsewhere 2 is also an uplifting reminder of how music connects us, even in isolation. It’s a memory of normalcy and a hopeful glimpse into the future — a note that reads, “Until we meet again.”