Disco ball light illuminates the silhouettes of fans who’ve donned pig ears in honor of Peter McPoland’s latest album and its ongoing tour, Piggy. The crowd milling about under Brooklyn Bowl’s sparkling sea of lights is mostly middle- and high-schoolers chatting together and making new friends as bartenders hand out cups of water. I recognize other alternative artists like Wallows from the music playing in the house as we wait for the opener, Stephen Dawes.
Dawes kicks off his set with the feel-good opening tracks from his recent debut EP, The Day We Met. There is no other word to describe him but charming: a little awkward in his stage presence and dance moves, but incredibly sweet when talking to the crowd and Brooklyn Bowl staff. He’s wearing a simple black t-shirt with jeans and wielding the most well-polished electric guitar I’ve ever seen. All this authenticity combined with the upbeat high school love songs makes for a comfortable elation that is so distinct to the indie pop genre.
Dawes soon moves on to some of his older singles, like the contentedly yearning “It Could Be Me.” I am admittedly a little surprised when he breaks into a heartfelt rendition of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” but I have since discovered that his claim to fame is his cover of the song going viral on TikTok. The cover is his most streamed on Spotify, followed by “Teenage Dream – Sped Up.” Thank you, TikTok, for putting this sweetie on the map.
When Dawes leaves the stage, a life-sized rubber pig is unveiled, decked out in a party hat and proudly overlooking the crowd while we wait for McPoland to come out. When he appears washed in purple light, he opens with “Mold,” the existential and upbeat first track from Piggy. He’s more intense than I expected–yelling and jumping around, but it makes sense given the adolescent rage infused in the new album. If Dawes channeled our inner joy, McPoland harnessed our angst.
It takes me a little while to notice that McPoland’s strange hopping dance moves are a result of a tastefully bedazzled boot on his right foot. He later tells us that he had jumped over the barrier at the Chicago show and broken his foot, but he makes up for his limited mobility by headbanging so hard that his headphones fall off countless times. His injury has no effect on the high energy he brings to every single song, seamlessly transferring his vigor to angry and sweetly sentimental songs alike.
McPoland’s passion for his music is matched only by his passion for his fans and making sure they’re enjoying themselves; every sign and set of pig ears handed to him was met with immense gratitude. He exclaims “she got her boots back!” as he hangs up a fan’s poster of the Green M&M onstage, referencing the viral clip of Tucker Carlson pondering the candy’s sexuality. He singles out a fan to say “hello?” during the performance of his hit song “Romeo & Juliet” and tells us stories between songs about everything from the debacle in Chicago, his thoughts on bowling, and his time as a Domino’s delivery driver.
McPoland’s eccentric personality shines through in his dance moves that are strangely reminiscent of old TikTok dances. His fan base doesn’t seem to mind, and often mirrors his moves. They also erupt in barks after McPoland plays “Dog” off his new album. Their sense of belonging fills the venue with a beautiful feeling of acceptance that makes my heart happy and heals my inner tween.
The crowd’s energy peaks towards the end of the show with the performance of McPoland’s 2021 single, “Shit Show.” Almost the whole venue screams along, emphasizing the seasonably appropriate line “’til I cried on Thanksgiving.” McPoland doesn’t bother with the fuss of an encore, poking fun at the ritual and concluding the concert with “Digital Silence,” the most popular song off Piggy.
Our ears ring as we spill out of the colorfully lit venue into the chilly night air. I’m left thinking about growing up: how wonderful it is that McPoland’s music gives us the space to both find joy in and take issue with the process, and how good it felt to explore that range with a room full of strangers on a Tuesday night.
Listen to Piggy here: