“It’s fine. All of us up here are Jewish.”
Halfway through Charly Bliss’s ferocious set at Somerville’s ONCE Ballroom, lead singer Eva Hendricks broke for some rare stage banter. “This looks like the kind of place where you’d have your bar mitzvah,” she said, gesturing across a sea of flannel at the boxy 9,000 square foot event space. Heads started swiveling to corroborate, and within seconds, the room erupted into cheers. “It works, because I’m wearing my best friend’s bat mitzvah dress,” she added, bunching up the glistening gold tulle that spewed from her waist. “It’s fine. All of us up here are Jewish.”
This 30-or-so second aside nails the central appeal of Charly Bliss. They’re DIY and off-the-cuff, incredibly conversational for a band that makes music with such a theatrical flair. “DQ,” one of their most infectious cuts, ends its chorus with the almost too-sharp couplet “I’m too sad to be mean/ I’m gonna end up working at Dairy Queen,” but it sounds like the genuine contents of Hendricks’ head rather than a stab at bratty relatability. The song’s punkish, glammy riff takes it from cheeky to near-holy—Charly Bliss makes music that sounds the way we all wish that high school sounded.
Saturday’s show marked the end of the band’s Guppy tour, their first as a headlining act. Easily one of 2017’s best releases thus far, Guppy is littered with the kinds of blistering pop-rock choruses that sound so effortless they must have been hell to make. Even more than that, it’s blessed with Hendricks’s unforgettable, one-of-a-kind voice: it’s both impish and forceful, impossibly high but littered with gravel. It lends Guppy’s songs about romantic misadventure and therapy appointments a sticky-sweet edge that borders on sinister. When she’s wondering “Am I the best?/ Or the just the first person to say yes?” on the massive “Glitter,” she sounds unimpeachable; when she’s pleading “We could build a life together/ Don’t just leave and say ‘whatever’” on “Julia,” she sounds cracked, weathered and impossibly lonely.
The album’s giddy endorphin rush translated beautifully to ONCE’s bar mitzvah-ready dancefloor. From the moment the guitars started chugging to kick off “Percolator,” a brazen self-acceptance anthem, the energy spiked to a steady 11. Their playing was high-octane and nearly immaculate, never once suggesting that they were shaken by pressures of headlining. Guitarist Spencer Fox and bassist Dan Shure often smashed foreheads with Hendricks during long instrumental breaks. Yucky Duster and Lost Dog, the energetic openers, are longtime friends of the band. The entire evening had a communal, near-informal feeling that felt welcoming rather than lazy, as if any one of the crowd’s gently thrashing bodies could climb onstage and belt out the next song.
As a performer, Hendricks harnessed her most compelling on-record qualities. Adorned with that gold-sequined bat mitzvah dress, platinum-blonde hair and rings of glitter around her eyes, she managed to resemble both Wonder Woman and David Bowie. She stomped and pouted through lines like “DQ”’s “I always get dumped on my birthday,” playing up the near-juvenile contours of her voice and channeling her best punk cheerleader. None of it ever felt too performative or streaked with artifice, though—just before the set started, Lorde’s “Supercut” appeared on the pre-show playlist, and Hendricks mouthed every word with the gleeful enthusiasm of a deeply uncool superfan.
The evening featured a smattering of new material alongside cuts from Guppy and the band’s debut EP Soft Serve, all of which was good enough for an upcoming record despite their silence on the subject. One song in particular, called “Heaven,” signaled a compelling new direction: Hendricks billed it as “the first and only Charly Bliss love song.” Over a slow-burning strum, Hendricks yelps and whispers about the virtues of a stable lover while showing astonishment that they ever found their way into her life.
Watching her stomp and thrash next to Fox and feeling Shure’s bass rattle the floor, it was easy to imagine the feeling.