LIVE REVIEW: Eskimeaux @ ONCE Ballroom

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Eskimeaux‘s show alongside Free Cake For Every Creature, Claire Cottrill, and Lady Pills on Thursday, May 12 was about 50 percent concert, 50 percent social gathering, and 100 percent what you would expect to find in Somerville, Massachusetts. The venue itself is a site worth visiting: Its upstairs restaurant has arcade machines and tables you might expect to find at your grandma’s birthday party, and its downstairs performance venue will make you feel like you’re in your friend’s basement.

True to the name of the last opener, there was free cake for everyone (with “free cake” written in icing), and people sat on the floor to eat it. The beard-to-face ratio and Birkenstock-to-foot ratio in the audience were off the charts even for a town known as the Boston area’s hipster central. The four acts were all similar in a few ways: They consisted entirely of or at least were fronted by women, and their visual and musical aesthetic were a bit twee but a bit rough around the edges.

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The first act to take the stage, Lady Pills, was one of the best. With lo-fi, grungy instrumentals, vocals reminiscent of The Cranberries, and sardonic yet sweet lyrics like “everyone’s so stupid. I just want to make out with you,” the band projects an image that’s simultaneously cuddly and sassy. Next, soloist Claire Cottrill filled the room with a softer and simpler sound, conjuring a childlike purity in songs like “Bubble Gum” with the refrain, “I swallowed the bubble gum.”

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Then, Free Cake For Every Creature brought the energy back up. Lead singer Katie Bennett took a playful tone a bit reminiscent of The Moldy Peaches in songs like “For You,” with the lyrics: “for you, I’d write a shitty poem on the wall of a dressing room at JC Penny,” and almost whispered her way through songs like the sentimental “First Storm of the Summer,” which evoked the sound of raindrops on a roof.

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The main act, Eskimeaux, is the solo project of singer-songwriter and producer Gabrielle Smith. Unlike the other, more garage-like sounds in the lineup, Smith’s voice and accompanying instrumentals were crisp. Folk tunes like “I’ll Admit I’m scared” conjured The Finches, especially since Smith’s voice is a lot like Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs’s, but she sounded more like Mirah in higher-paced, danceable numbers like “Broken Neck,” for which her bandmates and the audience sang along. My only criticism of their act is that each song seemed to end a bit too soon and abruptly.

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The evening’s bookends — Lady Pills and Eskimeaux — were the highlights, while Free Cake For Every Creature and Claire Cottrill were less infectious fillers. Across the board, though, all four acts projected a contagious excitement, perhaps because they were celebrating the release of both Eskimeaux’s latest album Year of the Rabbit and Free Cake for Every Creature’s Talking Quietly of Anything With You on April 15. It felt like the crowd was not just the audience in a show but also a group of supporters sharing in a celebration, and it felt like something special to be one of them.

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