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Pomplamoose returns to The Farm: A night of surprises

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Natalie Dawn and Jack Conte of Pomplamoose performing at Bing Concert Hall. Photo by Avi Bagla.

On Saturday night, pop duo Pomplamoose shined at Bing Concert Hall. Stanford graduates Jack Conte ’06 and Nataly Dawn ’09 put on a quirky performance, featuring original songs, covers and lots of audience participation. The couple met at Stanford University eight years ago when they started writing songs and making YouTube videos that showcased Dawn’s velvety vocals, Conte’s multi-instrumental abilities, and creative film techniques that showed each instrument they used in the process of making the track.

After more than a half-decade and 100 million views, the vitality was still there. Dawn began plucking her bass in a cover of “Nature Boy,” gently crooning notes while Conte, head dipped toward the keys, rolled out harmonies on the piano. The music echoed in the auditorium, and Dawn’s silky voice acquired a slightly airy tone as it swept over the audience. Notes dripped like rain drops, sound waves rippling throughout.

Bing, Conte explained afterwards, was unlike any venue they had ever performed at. Demonstrating the acoustics of the hall, he clapped once, and the sound reverberated throughout the space. They had planned the entire show beginning at 9 a.m. that very day to adapt it to the unique venue. “It will never be played anywhere else,” Conte said.

Indeed, compared to the duo’s YouTube videos, the program featured sparser instrumentation and simpler vocals that exuded a more personal feel, providing intimacy in the expansive hall. Pomplamoose’s music videos layer multiple tracks of instrumentation on top of the lyrics, (see their cover of “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”), but the arrangements they presented in concert were much simpler. At times, Dawn’s voice would only be supported by chords on the piano, a riff on a guitar or a light pattering of the drums. The string section – Anton Patzner on the violin and Lewis Patzner on the cello – contributed to the fullness of sound without overpowering Dawn’s vocals.

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Jack Conte on the piano. Photo by Avi Bagla.

In other songs, the stage seemed to fill up with virtuosic chaos, as in the rock-like cover of “Royals.” Strange and wonderful harmonies surged, heads bobbed up and down, bows sailed across strings, and fingers scurried along fret boards. Percussive chords, accentuated by the pounding of the drums, punctuated the driving rhythms. Once in a while, Conte would leap up from his bench, as if lifted by the momentum of the beat. They were careful not to overdo it though, ensuring each layer of musical texture enhanced, rather than overpowered, the overall sound of the piece.

Between each song, Dawn and Conte engaged in casual conversation, describing their creative process, telling the stories behind some of the songs and recounting how they first met — Dawn was a freshman and Conte a senior at Stanford when Dawn opened up for Conte at the CoHo. Their first original song, “Hail Mary,” was an immediate viral hit on YouTube. Their performance at Bing quickly proved why: Dawn’s lush timbre glided effortlessly over the winding melody as Conte joined drummer Carlos Cabrera on percussion, both tapping a catchy march-like rhythm.

Besides originals such as “Another Day” and “Bust Your Knee Caps,” Pomplamoose also offered its own whimsical interpretations of several popular songs, including a punchy “Telephone,” a stripped-down “Single Ladies,” a sultry “Puttin on the Ritz” and the classic French song “La Vie en Rose.”

But the climax of the concert was surely when Conte, who was told that choral music sounded great in Bing, transformed the audience members into one grand choir. Using the position of his hands and their height from the floor to conduct – a closed fist meant “mmm,” an opened palm “aaah” – Conte moved with the swift grace of a ballet dancer teasing out ethereal harmonies from the amused faces of the crowd. Dawn’s voice entered quietly over the humming with “Amazing Grace.” The volume swelled as Conte raised his arms in musical ecstasy, and then – with a wave of the hand – silence.

But that was just the warm-up for the finale. In their final act, Conte invited the audience to come onstage – “No really, I mean it,” he assured after sensing the audience’s hesitation – to jam along in a passionate rendition of “We Will Rock You.” We gathered around the band with our feet stomping and our hands clapping the familiar, primitive rhythm. Energy coursing through the crowd, we all sensed – for a few fleeting moments – the wonderfully adventurous spirit of this special duo.

Shortly after the concert, I realized that what made this night so special was not so much Pomplamoose’s vocals or musical talent, which were impressive in their own right, but the unexpectedness – the spontaneity of the performance, their interaction with the audience, and the unplanned dialogue – all of which culminated into a concert that would indeed, recalling Conte’s words, never be repeated anywhere else.

Contact Marisa Lin at mlin3 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Marisa Lin is Music Desk Critic for the Stanford Daily. An undeclared freshman, she hails from Rochester, Minnesota. Contact Marisa at mlin3 'at' stanford.edu.