In Baltimore’s most celebrated punk venue Friday night, a young crowd gathered to listen to a night of powerful, introspective sets from Girlpool, Alex G, Eskimeaux, and Sitcom.
Strings of lights and lanterns hung up above in the dark room as Eskimeaux, Gabrielle Smith’s project, performed live with a hodgepodge of band members from the Brooklyn music scene. “This is an extremely special, much anticipated evening,” said Gabrielle.
Eskimeaux’s raw and light vocals mingled with full and broad drumbeats. The synth’s agreeable eeriness cut through with a bit of the horror contained in the face displayed on synth player Oliver Kalb’s T-shirt. Lyrics pulled from the innermost part of the heart narrated scenes of emotion and vulnerability. At times all other instruments cut out while Gabrielle’s vocals carried the room’s visions of their past lovers, friends and intimate memories.
Gabrielle expressed how humbled she was by the packed room. She decided to use the crowd wisely, going through a call and response with the audience on the track “Broken Necks” from O.K., the LP released earlier this year. Her clear and high voice sang of trying to keep a relationship going, a chorus from the crowd echoing. The audience proved they knew these lines like it was their own story being told.
As the band played their last song, “I Admit I’m Scared,” they went into a lunge choreography matching the chords and pauses, followed by a bridge of high energy and furious, meaningful instrumentation. Gabrielle finished out the song alone, held up the “rock on” symbol and thanked the crowd.
Alex G’s lyrics, though very abstract and sometimes vague, were paired with empowering and relatable instrumental arrangements instead. The audience seemed to hold on to these notes, displaying many emotions during the band’s long instrumental sections. These calculated jam sessions were accompanied with intricate, improvised solos. Alex Giannascoli sang while swaying side to side in a hollow, repetitive manner, at one point running in place in a strange jig and screaming.
Playing the track “Wicked Boy,” Alex matched harsh lyrics with dark chords and a hard, rhythmic buildup to the chorus. The band invited Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker onto the stage for the last song of the set. The Girlpool members danced with and twirled each other while Alex G ended on a strong note.
Girlpool, reading off their set list scribbled into a composition notebook, jumped straight into “Ideal World” after Alex G’s set. The audience followed their every move and lyric, wondering what the duo was thinking about as they closed their eyes in what appeared to be deep thought. Girlpool’s authenticity in performance, the openness that came with a band of only two singers, one playing guitar and the other on bass, has been an important part of their success and now their emotion-filled live shows. Cleo and Harmony finished the first song with rapid but delicate strumming, a huge burst of applause following the end.
As they played, Cleo frequently smiled at Harmony. It was obvious they fed off of each other’s energies, leaving their microphones whenever they could to play to each other, synchronizing and having a moment together. They performed the title track off their LP, Before the World Was Big, with a tasteful round ending the song and leaving the crowd with feelings of nostalgia and vivid emotion. Towards the end of the set, the two sang staring at each other while sitting cross-legged on the floor.
They almost didn’t even need the crowd. Girlpool’s stripped-down harmonization gave the audience a glimpse of the singers’ thoughts, as if intruding on an intimate conversation among friends. But it was this raw nature that carried Girlpool to unique places of reflection and contemplation.
When “Crowded Stranger” started up, the heavy bass set up the track for the feeding, buzzing guitar to come in. Cleo and Harmony’s similar folk voices yelled over the music. At the end, some teenagers in the audience requested “Cut Your Bangs,” the band’s notable cover of Radiator Hospital. “I don’t have any,” Cleo yelled back.
The lineup was pieced together well. Cleo’s vibrating guitar and Harmony’s bellowing bass served as bridges between Eskimeaux and Alex G’s sound. Each set complemented the other. “We’re on our dream tour right now with Eskimeaux and Alex G,” Cleo said.
– Everly Jazi
All photos: Kayla Williams