While playing Orlando set, Pinegrove frontman dodges sexual coercion accusations

The troublesome band sold out Soundbar.

click to enlarge Pinegrove plays Soundbar in Orlando, Florida on February 25, 2019. - Ray Roa
Ray Roa
Pinegrove plays Soundbar in Orlando, Florida on February 25, 2019.


Pinegrove” is an evocative name for indie-rock fans and scene watchers, and on Monday in Orlando, a very sold-out Soundbar reckoned with everything that the two-syllable word means in 2019.

The Montclair, New Jersey band broke out in a big way three years ago when frontman Evan Stephens Hall put his feelings on paper in a fashion that felt every bit as angsty as the best parts of the Jade Tree catalog, but also a lot like what might’ve happened had Jason Isbell married his southern influence with the pages of his teenage diary. Cardinal — undoubtedly one of 2016’s best albums — was almost uncategorizable, and its lyrics read like the thoughtful prose of a poet four times Hall’s age. The band quickly outgrew the DIY scene that fostered it and found itself getting co-signs from countless artists and superfans drawn to the magic of a jangly, deeply emotive and intelligent collection of tunes that seemed to speak to every sort of emotion that floats around in the heads of hand-wringing 20- and 30-somethings with at least half of a heart and access to a dictionary.

Then 2017 happened.

In the midst of the #MeToo movement, Hall explained — in his trademark longwinded manner — that he’d been accused of “sexual coercion.” The news sent aloof fans trying to figure out exactly what that meant (it’s “the act of using pressure, alcohol or drugs, or force to have sexual contact with someone against his or her will,” according to loveisrespect.org; psychologytoday.com did a lab study that intellectualizes the consent-based concept).

The online Rage Brigade activated, and arguments about the ethics behind an allegiance to the troublesome troupe of shaggy indie-rock heroes ensued. Hall — in respect to his alleged victim’s wishes — put Pinegrove on pause and got therapy. Fans, both closeted and not, lamented what felt like the abrupt end for one of the best new bands to emerge in years.

Then Pitchfork emerged with a September 2018 longread that shed significant light on the situation. The article also managed to come off kind of like a PR piece that preceded what became Pinegrove’s return in the form of a 2018 album, Skylight. A short run of 2018 tour dates accompanied the record along with a note about fan safety at shows, which Pinegrove called a “priority.”

“...we wanna emphasize our commitment to making sure everyone is as comfortable as possible at our shows,” the band wrote in an announcement. “With that in mind, we’ll be partnering with organizations and volunteers trained in active bystander intervention in each city.”

News of Pinegrove’s only Florida date arrived soon after, and it was easy to understand why so many in Orlando’s punk scene were incensed by the booking. One of Creative Loafing Tampa’s favorite band’s, Expert Timing, flat-out pointed out that there are heaps of bands that local fans can support instead of Pinegrove.

Expert Timing bassist Katrina Snyder exchanged emails with CL on the night before the show, and added some context to her band’s stance about choosing to support the many talented musicians who make their art without harassing people.

“There really is no excuse to support known abusers. We definitely think that when local promoters/venues allow these shows to happen, and furthermore shutdown complaints or conversations about it, then they are making a statement that they don’t actually value their audiences, and the safety and well-being of the music community that they serve,” Snyder wrote, adding that the burden of responsibility doesn’t fall solely on the folks booking and hosting the show.

“It’s on all of us to ensure that we’re making the best choices we can to create a safe, inclusive atmosphere,” Snyder wrote.

“In addition, we really need to stop putting people on pedestals, we’re all human, and when we do this maybe believing victims and non-men will finally become the norm instead of the exception.”

Synder admitted that there definitely isn’t an easy answer, but she hoped that “having open discussions about it will help people understand why Pinegrove is still problematic and hear some new perspectives they might not have thought of.”

And that’s what happened at Soundbar… we think.

Being packed into a venue like sardines opens up a mind in very special ways, but it also allows you to literally hear and see things in a way that you can’t when there’s elbow room.

Supporters of Pinegrove’s comeback have been quick to point out that Hall has surrounded himself with people who love him enough to hold him accountable. Nandi Rose Plunkett — who left Pinegrove in August 2017 to focus on her band, Half Waif — even said that she could see herself continuing to collaborate with her old bandmates.

“Singing with Evan was how I got brought into the band, and eventually… how this project got started,” Plunkett said in a 2018 interview. “I will always jump at the opportunity to sing with him and play with musicians who have now become my family.”

We didn’t hear much of that sentiment in the crowd after an opening set from Another Michael, but we did hear a lot of “sorry” and “excuse me" as the crowd — some moving through the sea of people with arms way up, avoiding as much contact as possible — jockeyed for position. We overheard some questions about Soundbar’s capacity (350, if you must know). And we heard the loud guy at the bar, too.

We also heard every moment of the 80-minute sing-along loud and clear.

Accusations aside, Hall’s words — and the songs’ heartbreaking melodies and time changes — still conjure up deep feels from Pinegrove’s fan base. Emo bros huddled in one-armed embraces. Couples mouthed lyrics silently to each other and Hall — onstage with an overgrown buzzcut, sky-blue T-shirt and faded black jeans — delivered a powerful 22-song performance with ease. He also thanked the organizers of the pre-show safety clinic, but never really addressed the controversy surrounding his band. There weren’t even any protests outside, so you’d probably have to go online to see any outward acknowledgement of the elephant in the room.

What we saw instead was pretty much the same thing you see at every show. Thick-rimmed glasses. Unkempt hair under dad hats. Tattooed legs. Keys clipped into belt loops with carabiners. There was a mother and father standing on each side of their son.

In short, the scene wasn’t anything extraordinary. But the gathering — whether you’d like to admit it or not — happened under extraordinary circumstances. Without a doubt, 99 percent of that room was aware of the loaded nature of a Pinegrove show. Everyone in that room probably knows a victim of sexual harassment. Some who attended the pre-show talk learned about active bystander intervention. Others, sadly, might even be victims themselves.

There’s no telling how fans at Soundbar truly feel about the accusations against Hall. But they came, and they cared enough to partake for the night.

Hall’s actions, however, have affected a victim’s life forever.

Let’s not forget that, and let’s hope that we all care enough to hold each other accountable so that it might never happen again.

Listen to songs from the set via SpotifyStay on top of Tampa Bay news and views. Sign up for our weekly newsletters and follow @CL_music on Twitter.

Setlist

Problems
Cadmium
Then Again
Rings
Portal
Intrepid
V
Darkness
Skylight
Scared To Know
Old Friends
Aphasia
Visiting
Thanksgiving
Easy Enough
Amulets
Light On
Angelina

The Metronome
Palisade
Size of the Moon
New Friends

About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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