Penguin Prison reminds me of the year 2011. Sure, that was the year I heard their catchy-as-hell smash hit, “Don’t Fuck With My Money” for the first time, but their music conjures more than that. It’s the frothy, delectable essence of being 22. It’s staying out late on a Tuesday night, speeding down the 101 with the windows open. It’s winding up on someone’s balcony, bumming a cigarette and looking out at city lights. It’s a first kiss with someone you may never kiss again. It’s the joy of that brief, twinkling window of young adulthood in which you can do almost anything and not particularly care about the consequences.
On Friday night at the Teragram Ballroom, I checked my adulthood at the door and basked in the effervescent, rainbow-tinged delight that is Penguin Prison. They opened with the title track off their new EP, Turn It Up, and the crowd almost seemed to levitate with energy.
Penguin Prison’s frontman, Chris Glover, also technically happens to be the band’s sole member, though he frequently collaborates with other artists and tours with a drummer, bassist, guitarist and keyboardist. Glover was raised in Manhattan, and his eclectic young life radiates through his music. It’s easy to categorize Penguin Prison as indie-dance music, but upon closer inspection, it’s fascinatingly layered. Glover rose to fame remixing other artists such as Lana Del Rey, Kimbra, Kylie Minogue and Goldfrapp, and their influences seem into Penguin Prison’s danciest jams.
After working through much of their discography, Glover performed one of my favorite tracks, “Calling Out,” off 2015’s Lost in New York, a track that relies heavily on emotive piano riffs and Glover’s characteristic falsetto. When I photograph a show, I rarely have the luxury of just jamming out, but I actually made time during this song to put my camera down and dance, which is a testament to how damn catchy this song is. As Glover bopped and shimmied around the stage, the crowd eagerly reached out to him. Occasionally he would bop closer and grab a hand or two, prompting delighted squeals from the audience.
One of the night’s high points was Glover’s bombastic cover of Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long,” a song literally every human over the age of 10 in America knows the words to. His infectious energy and passion brought the audience to a fever pitch. It was a fun moment to turn around and see a hoard of shining faces sing along, eyes closed, arms up. Glover inspires that kind of adoration whether he’s playing a remix, a cover, or one of his original songs.
After a brief break, the group returned for an all-out, sweat-soaked, full bodied encore of “Don’t Fuck With My Money,” which gave the crowd the final dance party they needed. And because music makes us all time travelers, for a moment, I was 22 again. And it was perfect.
Words and photos by Stephanie Varela Rheingold