Prudently, the EstroFest moved from its former home, Frazier's on the Avenue in Hampden, to the much larger North Howard Street venue. The benefit for the House of Ruth woman's shelter packed the place, but much of the night had more of a coffeehouse-show feel, not a rock vibe. Many people sat and talked, treating the acts onstage as background music, but a few acts turned up the energy and got people's attention. The opening puppet show--courtesy of the Miss America and featuring a strange plot that involved members of ZZ Top and Six from the '90s sitcom Blossom--wasn't one of them.
The music tapped lightly to start, with acoustic folk from Cashel and her band, Rare Animal Zoo. A female keyboardist and male cellist/bassist backed Cashel during her slow and moody strolls through "Memory of a Disease," but the ominous harmonies and occasional spoken-word interludes (as in the song "Eat Your Heart Out") were interesting enough to endure.
After that came Washington's retro-sounding Jurkat , whose sound varied from an opening instrumental number with a mariachi spice to another in which singer Jessica Mlotkowski's girl-rock vocals danced over music that was CastleVania-meets-Super Mario Brothers soundtracks (and that's not a knock). Although these three gals seemed a bit uncomfortable onstage, their '60s-inspired pop was a refreshing change of pace from the girl-garage-rock norm.
Fest organizer Kate Tallent is no longer in the band, but three-year EstroFest vets Vestal Vermin provided the first signs of actual rocking. Looking like the Donnas 10 years from now, Vestal Vermin spewed late-'70s/early-'80s punk simplicity; singer Hannah Feldman's outgoing stage presence and energy made the show worthwhile.
With matching outfits, a flashy banner, and a wallop of energy, the two-gals-one-boy Secret Crush Society came out strong and promised to be the most exciting act of the night. They started with an unusual cheer intro, but the overall performance was mediocre. The band itself sounded new, and the music wasn't very tight. A slow cover of the Misfits' "Skulls" didn't help the set at all. But there's something about SCS that promises a more interesting future.
Headliner Mongoloidian Glow finally brought something interesting to the stage. The female duo's beat-heavy drums-and-guitar music could benefit from a bass player or a few extra members to fill out the sound. But as a primitive pair, Mongoloidian Glow showed that it is one of the more unique bands in the city, proof positive that two women can rock out just fine by themselves.
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