It’s not often that I’ll go to a concert and the first song will be Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” It’s also not often one of my favorite bands comes to Philadelphia. My excitement level for the show was off the charts; it didn’t matter what song was being played. I heard every song that Smallpools played at Union Transfer April 28, but the way the California band strung together a list of original songs and covers was a sight to see.
I’ve seen Smallpools once before, and they began their previous show with a “Four Seasons” recording as well. It threw me for a loop the first time, and the second time caught me off guard as well. The room was dark as Vivaldi’s notes swam through the room. Beau Kuther (Smallpools’ drummer) banged two notes on his bass drum and a bright light flashed twice to his beat. The crowd roared. Kuther banged out another pair of notes and the beaming light flashed again at the crowd. This time, the light scattered around a man standing front and center posing angelically with his arms to the side. The crowd exploded into applause. Continuing several times, the lights shined on, and that man is Sean Scanlon, Smallpools’ lead singer. Scanlon faced the crowd with his arms outstretched and pretended to conduct the soundtrack orchestra playing “Four Seasons.” As lights flash again, Scanlon threw his baton in the air and the opening riff to “Over & Over” began.
“Over & Over” and “Street Fight” are two of my favorite songs by Smallpools. These two songs led off the concert, and I was instantly hooked. If you were to watch my Snapchat story that night, not only would you have seen Smallpools’ stunning use of lights (in the first two songs, no less) but also my off-key voice screaming, “Caught in a street fight, you need a lifeline, go on and use me, I’ll be your Bruce Lee.” Smallpools is a band with a very bouncy feel to their music; these opening songs got me jumping around before the show ever really started.
After the first two songs, Scanlon addressed the crowd. Mocking that he isn’t in Philadelphia to play music, Scanlon proclaimed, “I’m here because I’m running for president. Philadelphia, do I have your vote?” While I’m no politician, Smallpools was two songs in and already had my vote.
Several songs with fast tempos later, the band covered “A Real Hero” by College. Kuther began one of the longest drum solos I’ve ever seen. I think Kuther is talented, but I don’t think the drum solo was necessary, especially after an unwanted lull in the show. The cover was great, yet it wasn’t appropriate for the lively atmosphere. The crowd wanted to party and if you’ve ever heard “Real Hero,” then you know that there is little to do when that song is on.
One of the coolest parts of the show came during “American Love.” The bridge started and instead of the typical ensemble, Scanlon and Mike Kamerman, the band’s guitarist, played the melody on a xylophone with freaking glow-sticks. I think this is when I decided Smallpools would get my presidential vote come 2016.
The band told two stories and performed “Mason Jar,” beginning the peak of the show. This beautiful, relatable song got the crowd dancing more than before. And then it stopped.
The audience applauded and Scanlon took center stage. “I have a favor to ask of you all,” he said. “Everybody put away your phones, put away your cameras and just we will live in this moment right here.” I put my phone away and so did everyone else. “Even if the Devil himself possesses my body, I want that to be a moment that only we share.” A few giggles and fog filled the venue, red lights highlighted the stage and Scanlon began speaking with a horrifying undertone modifying his voice. Pretending to be the devil, Scanlon made jokes about marijuana, claiming the only thing bad about it is that it makes you want to eat chips and binge watch Netflix. Joking aside, Scanlon shouted, “Leave your phones in your pocket; for the next four minutes, this moment is just ours!”
I genuinely think that the audience would have listened to this request, if Scanlon didn’t jump into the crowd during the song “Lovetap!” to dance and sing with his fans. Nearly everyone at that point had their phone out to record a video, but I promise you, I was living in that moment and I won’t ever forget it. When the song ended, Scanlon and Kamerman made sarcastic banter about how the audience did great abandoning technology for all of five minutes — not.
Scanlon talked about hard decisions and crossroads being the inspiration for “9 to 5,” and fancy Los Angeles parties not being all they’re made out to be being the muse for “Admission To Your Party.” The best story was saved for last (until the encore).
“When we first started out as a band, we used to Google ‘Smallpools’ on the Internet,” Scanlon said. He explained that their song “Killer Whales” would make people mad, because “It’s messed up to keep killer whales in small pools.” As the song began giant inflatable pool-toy whales appeared and the crowd passed them around like beach balls.
The concert ended, the crowd cheered and out came the typical encore. Smallpools played “(Submarine)” the final song from “Lovetap!” and then Scanlon shared what will be his last story: the motivation behind the song “Karaoke.” Before Smallpools, Kamerman and Scanlon would go to the same bar every weekend and sing karaoke to the same song: “You Get What You Give” by New Radicals. The band played a quick 10 second cover of the song before playing their own song, “Karaoke.” This song transitioned into a short cover of “Drops of Jupiter” by Train — which I honestly believe is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. Smallpools did it justice.
Anyone who knows Smallpools knows that they can’t play a show without their famous song “Dreaming.” The band rocked out to one last explosive burst of energy before exiting the stage and thanking Philadelphia. Union Transfer was in love.
The show kicked a–. Smallpools put on an entertaining show filled with happy sounds, dance-y tunes and creative lights. There aren’t many bands I’d do my best to see multiple times, but you can bet your bottom dollar this won’t be the last time I see Smallpools and their inflatable whales.