Frankie Cosmos at the Ché Café: Pop Poetry for a Generation

Frankie Cosmos at the Che Cafe (AJ Peterson/The Triton)

Last Friday night, Frankie Cosmos rocked the Ché Café with openers Anna McClellan, Yowler, and Eskimeaux.

Anna McClellan and Yowler (Maryn Jones) were solo performers: McClellan sang powerfully sparse, introspective tunes about desire, identity, and wonder, while Yowler filled the Ché with slow-burning, cavernous strumming and more reverb than a Slowdive record.

Afterwards, Eskimeaux took the stage and immediately energized the room. Lead singer Gabrielle Smith explained to the audience that their new EP, Year of the Rabbit, had just been released earlier that day, and that they were about to perform its entire track list. This prompted a stir of excitement in the crowd, who filled the small venue and brimmed the back doorway of the café.

Eskimeaux started the set with the eponymous “Year of the Rabbit,” followed by “WTF” and “Power,” which paired Smith’s cooing vocals with tastefully overdriven guitars and the upbeat vigor of any great indie pop tune. When they arrived at “Bulldog,” Frankie Cosmos (Greta Kline) came on stage, caressed a microphone, and sang in near-perfect harmony with Smith: their intertwined voices seeped into every corner of the room and commanded a round of applause louder than the song itself.

Between tracks, Smith talked about touring, her new friendship with McClellan, and how happy she was to be playing at the Ché. After finishing the last track of the EP, Eskimeaux ventured into some of their older tracks, like “I Admit I’m Scared,” a folk-tinged cut featuring beautifully poetic imagery: “Everything I said / Spewed like sparklers from my mouth / They looked pretty as they flew / But now they’re useless and burnt out.” Reading through Smith’s lyrics is like reading poetry: each phrase is melodic in itself, harboring a self-contained rhythm that must have precluded any instrumentation. The backing music is secondary to her lyricism, an achievement that many bands struggle with. Smith knows exactly how to translate her emotions, thoughts, and ideas into poetic expressions of love, life, and loss.

Before I talk about Frankie Cosmos, you should know about The Epoch, of which Eskimeaux is a part. They are a group of artists, musicians, filmmakers, and all-around creative people who draw from careful poetic sensitivity and the traditions of folk music to channel its essence into contemporary pop for the indie-minded listener. Scrolling through their Tumblr page reveals a collection of quiet, stripped-down songs that together could represent a new movement in American folk that’s indebted more to the lo-fi basement scene than the sprawling ranges of Appalachia.

Though Frankie Cosmos is not an official member of The Epoch, she embodies its essence. She took center stage, wearing a tank top from a gas station that was, according to her, originally designed for a toddler. The band played cuts off of their new record, Next Thing, a charming collection of fifteen vignettes condensed into just under half an hour. Not one of Kline’s songs breaks the three-minute mark, and is better for it: she is a poet performing a book of her works, and at age 22 seems to have already written a lifetime of material. On “Too Dark,” she sings “If your love was strong as my shame / I’d marry you and take your name / But it’s not, you’ll never get it / So I guess I’ll just forget it.” Next Thing is filled with these simple yet poignant revelations, like on “Embody”: “It’s Sunday night and my friends are friends / With my friends / It shows me / They embody all the grace and lightness.” Each song appeared to end just as it began, a short-form approach to songwriting that mirrors the infectious music of 90’s indie rock weirdos Guided by Voices and contemporaries like Alex G.

Halfway through the set, Kline and her band began playing songs from Zentropy, her 2014 studio debut LP. Everyone recognized the tracks from the first chords: these songs are special, the soundtrack for a generation of teens and early twenty-somethings interested in art, literature, poetry, and photography. Greta Kline could be any one of us; she’s just the one that knows how to write a song that expresses our experience. Her lyrics are honest, powerful, and strikingly beautiful. Do yourself a favor and listen to a few of her tracks.

My favorite aspect of the night was the sincere connection between all the bands. Every member of each band had a smile on their face, they joked with each other, told stories about their touring experience, and performed in each other’s sets. This was a group of friends who just happened to have instruments and immense musical talent, and we were all able to briefly bathe in the warmth of their relationships.

  • Jenny Wong

    twas lit