"Everyone hydrating?" Grace Buchanan, the lead singer of Girl Sküll, called out to the small crowd which had gathered outside on the quiet, leafy Brookline street.
“As we say in my household, hydrate or die straight!!" Buchanan cried, pulling a series of faces and then leading the band into a thunderous, appreciatively garage-grunge, punk-screamo number that shook up the gray, sleepy day and caused passing children on scooters to plug their ears and hurry past.
I had been wandering around Brookline looking for Porchfest, wondering if it had been canceled due to the overcast, chilly weather. Porchfest, which takes place in a number of Boston-area neighborhoods, features musical performances on porches (as well as stoops, driveways, and yards). While a map and schedule of events is distributed by artists and available online, I prefer to engage in musical trick-or-treating, following my eyes and ears to the best houses.
Girl Sküll bills itself as "a punk band of mature ladies, screaming about life and rocking you out of complacency." The band's growling bass lines could be heard piercing through the gloom from blocks away and instantly caught my attention. Although they were the first band I saw, their punk sensibility, catchy lyrics, and spirited performance made them my favorite of the day. They also arguably seemed to be having the most fun; at one point the lead singer laughed at a joke so hard it nearly derailed the set.
The first song of theirs I caught was called "Choices," which started with a deep bass line that crescendoed into a satisfying crash of symbols.
Girl Sküll describes themselves online as "menopause metal," and their punk anthems transformed the suburban neighborhood into a tiny block party, with a small group of onlookers bouncing to the music and cheering them on. "Boob W Room," a song about waiting for the results of a mammogram, was a truly stellar performance accompanied by boob squeezes.
“Ok! This one's called Lesbian IUD" Buchanan called out, as a woman walking her dogs punched her fist in the air.
A few blocks away, I stopped to listen to Juan Carlos Ruiz, who performed on the cuatro. Ruiz had a professional set up, which included QR codes that people could scan to learn more about him and spare maps of Porchfest. It was clear that Ruiz was a veteran of Porchfest, and this was confirmed when he mentioned that this was his third year performing. His music was instrumental and well performed, but it was his sunny vocals that really lifted his music and transported his audience. He performed a number of Latin songs, including "Bésame Mucho."
Next up, I stumbled across Ben Icenogle & Nora Meier, who had a slower, more indie vibe to their music. Watching their performance felt like watching a mellow jam session. Nora's voice was gentle and wandering, and the crowd around them swayed gently as they listened, transfixed.
Turning another corner, I saw the largest crowd I had seen so far outside of a garage. There was a band playing folk and Americana music, which turned out to be The Pearl Benson Band. I walked up as they sang the traditional "Deep River Blues." They played classics like "The Circle Game," by Joni Mitchell, and "A Satisfied Mind." Their performance felt raw and authentic, their instrumentation was nicely balanced, and it was clear from the many people humming along that the audience appreciated their set list.
Just when I thought I was done and heading home, I bumped into a flannel-clad band called The Muddy River Drifters, who were playing quiet, old-timey tunes. They had gathered a crowd which threatened to drift dangerously far into St. Paul's street. They performed a beautiful rendition of "June Apple," which felt perfect for the change of season.
While there were certainly many professional and impressive performances, I found myself gravitating toward the performances that trended closer to the hobbyist end of the spectrum. There was an charming, practice-in-the-garage aesthetic to many of the bands playing, and these lent to the earnest, neighborly feel of the day. Watching the multigenerational crowd of onlookers chatting with one another and enjoying music together also emphasized for me that Porchfest is as much about the community it creates as the musicians. It can be easy to live in Boston without ever interacting with your neighbors or knowing who lives around you; there's something beautiful to the visibility that Porchfest lends to the neighborhoods it animates.
Review from the Independent Review Crew.