It’s not easy for any band to preserve its authentic sound and simultaneously grow its appeal to larger audiences, but for those that figure it out, the benefits can be substantial.
CAAMP, a bonfire folk outfit based in Athens, Ohio, has managed to keep its original sound intact while still experiencing rapid ascension in popularity thanks to consistent recordings and key appearances at festivals, including a noteworthy picnic table performance at Newport in 2019.
Honing their woodsy, acoustic melodies and heartening their songs with longing and an eagerness, CAAMP has managed in just a few years’ time to progress from playing the likes of the now-shuttered Rock & Roll Hotel on H Street, to playing two sold-out shows at 9:30 Club in early 2020 just before the pandemic temporarily shut it down, to selling out The Anthem and delighting with a 19-song set on Dec. 3.
Impressive, to say the least.
Stream CAAMP’s 2020 EP Live from Newport Music Hall via Spotify:
And through this rapid growth, CAAMP’s winsome lead singer and acoustic guitarist Taylor Meier has adhered to his natural voice — a gentle, inviting inflection that woefully lifts to a lonesome howl or can lull with its delicacy — while the band has remained dedicated to its simple approach to folk music that so favorably characterizes their 2016 self-titled premiere and their follow-up pair of EPS dropped in 2018, titled Boys (Side A) and Boys (Side B).
And with the key addition of a drummer for this current fall tour, CAAMP’s sound would be made fuller by allowing Meier’s co-founder Evan Westfall to keep the banjo in his hands for the duration of each concert, rather than jumping from the stringed instrument to the drumkit like the last time Park Life DC saw him.
With longtime bass player Matt Vinson aptly handling the electric and the upright, keyboardist Joe Kavalec in the control seat, and the recently enlisted Henry Allen behind the kit, the band embraced the opportunity to play venues on this tour that in many cases are larger than it played during its last visits.
But CAAMP didn’t just add a teammate for this jaunt — the group’s been adding well-received material to its catalogue, keeping on an upward trajectory to follow up on what was their third studio album, 2019’s By and By. Staying busy during the pandemic, CAAMP released additional singles — including “Fall, Fall, Fall” and this year’s “Square One” Tom Petty cover — plus an EP, Live from Newport Music Hall.
Watch the official video for CAAMP’s 2020 single “Officer of Love” via the band’s official YouTube page:
A boon for CAAMP since the group last came through the DMV, the band’s non-album single “Officer of Love,” dropped in September 2020, reached the number one spot on Billboard’s Adult Alternative Airplay chart — CAAMP’s second track to do so — as well as totaling millions of listens in short time on streaming services like Spotify.
So as daunting as a packed Anthem might seem to a band with an intimate sound, CAAMP nonchalantly delivered with an engaging, rewarding night of music last Friday, as dialed in before thousands of people as it is in the smallest quarters, where most of the group’s fans have come to know it.
It kicked off with an amplified version of “Hey Joe,” the jovial, swift-trekking lead track from Boys (Side A) that gives Meier the runway to belt out what have become some of the band’s most recognizable lyrics, words that the audience was ready to sing word for work:
“Hey Joe, I got one more question
How does it feel, to spit that love into a microphone?”
“Thanks for being here,” Taylor cozied up after the opener. “It’s a big one tonight.”
CAAMP performed “Wolf Song,” a hollow, roving track that culminates with Meier’s painfully gorgeous wail, and then the band rolled right into “Send the Fisherman,” the closing track to Boys (Side B), shifted the sound back a few years to the organically rustic fabric of CAAMP compositions, a track with its agility and sentimentality had the large contingent on hand — from the floor to the back of the third-floor balcony — elated and pendulous.
Allen’s addition could be felt in each song, especially in “Common Man,” a fleeting, irresistibly catchy number that benefitted from his fast hands churning a marching jazz line to drive the song and help it rock the walls of the four-year-old venue.
Deeper into the set, the favorite non-album 2016 single “Misty” showcased a marvelous blend of crisp, orbiting banjo and rich, undulating standup bass, and then a touching version of “Books” from Boys (Side B) reminded just how humanizing and comforting CAAMP songs can be, with Meier’s voice at its most heartrending:
“And then she giggles like a bubble bath
Oh, I love it when you laugh
Rain like pennies in a tin can
There’s only one question left to ask …
Do you love me all the way?”
An unexpected selection, CAAMP surprised with a cover of Black Sabbath’s War Pigs, giving it a unique touch and possibly giving themselves all the reason to see just how loud they could be as a unit — a momentary departure welcomed by the mass of engaged ticketholders.
Watch the official music video for CAAMP’s 2020 single “Fall, Fall, Fall” via the band’s official YouTube channel:
But then it was right back into the indie folk flow to close out the set with the still unreleased new track “Believe,” followed by the 2016 breakthrough hit “Vagabond,” and ending the set with the adored, aforementioned single, “Officer of Love.”
A three-song encore, capped with a timeless take on “All The Debts I Owe,” demonstrated the band’s virtue and its propensity for creating a sense of abatement and reconciliation through memorable, everlasting melodies and promising lyrics that offer hope.
“Keep your lights down
Keep your voice down low
Wear your hair down
Whichever way you go
And I’ll meet you in Idaho
And I know you’ll miss me I’m barely fifty
Ain’t comin’ with me are all the debts I owe
Don’t have to kiss me just bear with me
And I’ll be back someday I hope …”
For a group experiencing as much early-career success as CAAMP, the challenges of navigating accelerated advancement — a rise threatened by the unthinkable hurdles of the pandemic — appear to have been overcome with a placid, day-by-day approach to songwriting that has helped keep the band and its core aligned to the sounds and the emotions that fortified it from its humble beginnings.
Send the Fisherman
Penny, Heads Up
See The World
So Long, Honey
War Pigs (Black Sabbath cover)
Officer of Love
By and By (encore)
All the Debts I Owe (encore)
Here are images of CAAMP, along with the night’s opening act, Madi Diaz backed by drummer Adam Popick, on stage at The Anthem on Dec. 3, 2021. All photos copyright and courtesy of Casey Vock.