Minneapolis indie-rock band Bad Bad Hats arrived at St. Olaf on Sept. 10 for an outdoor concert on the steps of Boe Chapel. The concert was hosted by the Student Government Association’s Music Entertainment Committee (MEC) and was immediately followed by an outdoor Pause dance in the same location.
The concert, one of Bad Bad Hats’ first since the start of COVID-19, featured songs from throughout their discography, including at-the-time unreleased songs off of their newest album “Walkman,” released on Sept. 17.
Bad Bad Hats fits within a niche indie-rock genre known as “tenderpunk,” first coined by Illuminati Hotties frontwoman Sarah Tudzin. Tenderpunk is characterized by its pleasant, melodic indie-rock sound and its emotional intensity. Tenderpunk is essentially crying on the dance floor, and Bad Bad Hats invites us to dance and cry in equal measure.
The set included many of the most popular songs from Bad Bad Hats, including the roiling soundscape of “Nothing Gets Me High,” and the nostalgic ode to the now-bankrupt Midwestern convenience store entitled “Super America.”
Bad Bad Hats is interested in this nostalgia, reliving and relitigating the rosy past and hoping to construct a better present. They invite us to think about our teenagehood and youth, our school experiences, our relationships, and everything in between. Singer and guitarist Kerry Alexander implored the audience to consider the difficulties of moving on from a bad relationship, crying out, “Stop and start over again/Start and stop over again” in the high-key banger “Detroit Basketball” – so named because she’s looking for a man who “doesn’t blow my money on the Detroit Pistons.” Bad Bad Hats is the best of tenderpunk: emotionally raw and self-effacing.
Of course, Bad Bad Hats is the perfect band for college students. Rock enough to give a taste of counterculture, embroiled enough conceptually in youth to be relatable, clever enough to make us feel smart for getting it, and simultaneously local enough to feel like we are on the ground floor – but popular enough for some minor starstrike. Maybe this is why Bad Bad Hats has serenaded St. Olaf for a second time – previously playing the Interim concert in January 2020.
The concert’s greatest weaknesses were as a result of it being outside, which was the responsible choice in this stage of the pandemic. The mosquitoes were a small price to pay for live music that doesn’t spread COVID-19. The performance felt close and intimate, in part because it was outside. One can get an experience like a Pause concert at First Avenue, but a rock band playing on the quad is an undeniably collegiate experience.
And in a time where live music has grinded to a halt, where the opportunities for truly communal shared experiences have been few and far between, a concert on the quad signals to us that better things are coming. Such a signal was a great way to start off the school year. If the bar Bad Bad Hats has set for live music on campus this year is met, it’ll be a year to remember.