Gabrielle Smith, Eskimeaux’s unassuming frontwoman, knows exactly how to hold a raucous crowd of University students in rapture: silence them long enough to transfix them with youthful vocals and a humming baseline. Eskimeaux is a band similar in tone and aesthetic appeal to Waxahatchee, who performed an acoustic set at the Memorial Chapel in October. While Waxahatchee’s show was more of a soft lullaby causing more than one audience member to nod off, Smith balanced the sense of somber longing on her latest album, O.K., with the energy necessary to turn Friday’s show at Alpha Delta Phi (Alpha Delt) into an all-out dance party.
“I high-key thought it was better than Spring Fling,” said Peter Dunphy ’18. “During ‘Broken Necks,’ there was a moment when Eskimeaux sang the line, ‘Nothing in this world is holier than friendship,’ and me and Viviane [Eng ’18] held hands, locked eyes, and sang the words together. It was magical.”
“It was very cute,” Eng concurred.
For Smith, Friday’s show was a balancing act as a packed Alpha Delt crowd began to mosh even during some of her more tranquil numbers. The entire band tried several times, to no avail, to praise the audience’s enthusiasm while also quieting them. Smith was dressed similarly to students at the University, with dangling ponytails and denim overalls. Neither her appearance nor her voice was imposing onstage. On standout numbers like “I Admit I’m Scared,” she delivered melancholy and evocative lines such as “And everything I said / spewed like sparklers from my mouth. / They looked pretty as they flew / but now they’re useless and burnt out,” without an overdone flair.
Noticeably surprised by the size of the crowd, Smith soon understood that she would have to adapt her performance style to suit the room. After coming to grips with the frenzied spirit of its audience, Eskimeaux discarded any efforts to transform the space at Alpha Delt into an intimate chill fest. Drummer Felix Walworth, who looked positively “Wayne’s World”-esque and who opened for the group as hir punk project, Told Slant, injected a carefree spirit into humanizing numbers such as “Alone at the Party.” One of the group’s most beat-driven and breezy tracks, it was a perfect song to pair with the Alpha Delt atmosphere. It was only at this moment midway through the concert that Smith seemed not only self-possessed, but also to be genuinely enjoying herself.
Eskimeaux’s sound, which the group has deemed “bedroom pop,” actually feels quite self-assured in a live setting. Eskimeaux clearly goes as Smith goes, and her quiet confidence onstage allowed her to delve deeply into experimental instrumentation. Most artists who share a sub-genre with Eskimeaux don’t focus as intently on honing their relative weakness as musicians, relying instead on their witty lyricism and aesthetic appeal. While it’s clear that Smith is no master musician yet, she was comfortable expanding upon some of the group’s upbeat numbers to match the excitement of the Alpha Delt crowd. In fact, since relocating to Brooklyn several years ago, she has founded a songwriting and art collective called The Epoch, and Smith’s group has released increasingly poised and unapologetically poetic albums. As a result, many of the songs off O.K. are more fully fleshed-out versions of demos Eskimeaux has recorded over the years, and the time spent polishing these tracks has clearly corresponded with Smith’s growing artistic ability.
“Probably my favorite aspect of the show was the lead singer, [Smith],” Jake Lahut ’17 said. “I heard them on Siriux XM several weeks ago and they sounded much different in concert this weekend. The lyrics were very clear and easy to follow, and it brought a great intimacy to the show.”
While Aural Wes promised that Friday would be a “night of feeling lots of feelings,” the show was in reality quite the opposite of heart-wrenching. The band could have easily collapsed beneath an air of its own self-importance, delivering banal and stilted sentiment as a crowd of angsty hipsters looked on with disinterest. But, much to Smith’s credit, she has carefully studied the styles of performers such as Tegan and Sara to understand how to convey heartbreak in the most buoyant of ways. As she told Stereogum about the process of recording “Broken Necks,” “That song has undergone a lot of revisions, like years and years of trying to make it as much of a dancey, happy fun time as possible. I feel like that’s the only way to deliver a breakup in song. Either that or really angrily.” It’s clear which path Eskimeaux has chosen.
This article has been updated to use gender-neutral pronouns.