Local Current Blog

Review and photos: Marian Hill are stylish but uninspiring at First Avenue

Samantha Gongol of Marian Hill at First Avenue on October 6, 2016. All photos by Emmet Kowler for MPR.

Even after seeing them at First Avenue, I’m caught in the middle with electropop duo Marian Hill. When I first heard their biggest single, “One Time,” I wrote down the song information and recommended it to a friend. I played their Sway EP most mornings while setting up shop at a serving job. Rather than fueling the fire, though, their debut album Act One left me a little cold. Was it the LP’s relative monotony both sound-wise (some combination of tenor sax, wafting soprano vocals, and minimalist, easy-to-swallow trap beats) and lyrical (without fail: lead singer Samantha Gongol is thinking about you, wants you to talk to her)? Aside from “Wild,” maybe, I didn’t see any song as a standout.

All this to say: I’d hoped that going to their First Avenue show would land me on one side of fandom or the other, maybe fulfilling the expectations that Act One never did, but I walked away more unsure than ever. The show started with “Down,” which also opens the LP, and I loved hearing the crowd sing along. But as the approximately 20-song set wore on, the music grew a bit tired, even as touring member Steve Davit switched between saxophone, bass guitar, and, once, a goofy dance break during a Jeremy Lloyd production interlude.

Gongol’s voice sounds like an ice cube slowly melting, and she’s gotten remarkably good at using it during shows. She switched between live and processed vocals with ease, mouthing along to samples of her voice as Lloyd played them from his set-up. Lloyd himself is fun to watch, dancing and mouthing lyrics from behind keyboards.

However, nothing made me feel much more than amiable toward the music, and when the encore ended (with a strange reprise of “One Time,” which the band had first played as the second song of the night), I was ready to be done with the show. The cover of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” could have been a turning point — I’m so happy that’s the Whitney Houston song my generation has claimed — but the band took the rapturous song and switched it to a piano ballad. Too much ennui for me.

On the plus side, the crowd (heavy with couples, whose grinding seemed in tune with the music’s jazzy allure) seemed to really enjoy the show. The band’s easily digestable aesthetics couldn’t have hurt; like the other two acts on the bill, Marian Hill wore nearly all black, and their Gatsby-esque logo and graphics translated well to the stage design.

On one hand, my position as a young white woman makes me the prime demographic to love Marian Hill (and it’s been fun watching my non-music-obsessed friends discover the duo for themselves). On the other, as several of my music journalist peers have pointed out, the duo’s music is just too much of the same thing (I still catch myself conflating “Good” and “Wild”). Even after spending an hour and a half with the band, I’m stuck between wanting to critique and champion the band, and I guess that says it all right there.

As far as openers go, I’d heard SHAED (pronounced “shade”) via my friend’s Discover playlist a couple of weeks ago and stolen “Name On It” for my own rotation. I was delighted to look at the line-up before the show and figure out the first opening band was one I’d already listened to — in the car that morning, as a matter of fact. For being on their first tour ever, SHAED sounded great; they had the crowd inadvertently throwing elbows on the dance floor, and a new song, along with “Thunder” and “Name On It,” sounded especially good.

VÉRITÉ had me a bit less interested, although her strain of electropop is also palatable enough. Her low notes had trouble pushing through the mix, and several songs felt like filler. But “Living” hit on a piano riff that sounded like the first four notes of the Wombat’s “1996,” and sorting out that connection made me invest in the song to some degree. It was, not coincidentally, my favorite of the 10 tracks VÉRITÉ sang — although a cover of Childish Gambino’s “Sober” nearly swooped in for the tie.

Cecilia Johnson is a staff writer for the Local Current blog. Photographer Emmet Kowler works with lights all day and takes photos after dark.

Set list

One Time
Bout You
Take Your Time
Talk To Me
I Know Why
Sad Song
I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Whitney Houston cover)
Production interlude/dance break
Same Thing
I Want You
Got It

Lovit → One Time



Marian Hill