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The Epoch brings camaraderie to WMUA’s Valentine’s Day concert

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“The Epoch is now,” promises the Brooklyn art collective’s website. Thanks to a year of notable press, associations with big indie names like Frankie Cosmos, word of mouth and a slew of anticipated projects distributed throughout the coming year, their promise feels more real than ever.

The self-described “community of musicians, writers, visual artists, filmmakers and more” seems to gain likability by being just that: a community. They live together, travel together and fill different instrumental duties on each other’s projects. Know the leader of one band and you probably know an auxiliary member of another.

The University of Massachusetts’ WMUA was fortunate enough to tap three of its acts: Florist, Told Slant and Eskimeaux to play a special Valentine’s Day show at the Amherst Unitarian Universalist Society.

My boyfriend and I crowded into a large back room of the building to join a packed, welcoming audience. Despite the holiday, the feeling in the room wasn’t one of romance, but one of companionship. Both through the different acts’ lyricism and the audience’s emotional reciprocation, the room flowed with a sense of solidarity in personal struggle and togetherness in success – an aural summary and mission statement of the Epoch.

Florist kicked things off with a quiet set of songs largely from the recently released “The Birds Outside Sang.” Their setup – mostly confined to guitar, bass and drums – was carefully adorned with a lone keyboard deployed both for counter-melody and the occasional fitting ambience, as on “Dust Inside the Light.” A babbling synth drone underscored the lines, “I heard water running behind the trees, but there was no river, nobody, not even a stream.” Moments like these were highlights, although the set came to a peak with the title track “The Birds Outside Sang.” Both singer Emily Sprague and the audience ultimately seemed much happier with the quieter, sparser deep cuts in her catalogue, like the gender-pondering “I Was.”

Although Sprague and the singers that followed frequently admitted some level of nervousness and frequently asked the sound booth to lower the mics, few of the succeeding moments ever felt delicate or uncertain. This was most apparent in Told Slant’s Felix Walworth, who was, unsurprisingly, the most animated presence among the performers.

“I’m living horribly, if you want to know how I’m doing,” the group declared, seizing every moment away from the microphone to throw their whole body into the upright drumming that’s become a calling card of their live act. While their set relied on well-known songs from “Still Water,” a record that seems to have lost none of its emotional efficacy or fan veneration in the four years since its release, a few new songs also peeked through the cracks.

Walworth’s instantly-recognizable vocal fry sounded just as strained as on the recording, but the palpable energy beneath the voice was more obvious than “Still Water” ever hinted at. If the new material is any indication, Walworth’s lost none of their lyrical poignancy.

The audience reacted most strongly to Told Slant’s performance, mouthing the words and enveloping each song’s closing chords with cheers. That energy carried through seamlessly to Eskimeaux’s grand finale, where leader Gabrielle Smith led her friends through a more robust set of songs from last year’s “O.K” and her upcoming “Year of the Rabbit” EP.

Of all the music, Smith’s came the closest to catharsis, as in the imagined confrontation of “You coward! You hummingbird!” for “O.K.” centerpiece “The Thunder Answered Back,” or the ruminating of “the million tiny ways you make me feel small” on new song “Power,” making the logical build from Florist’s more hushed beginnings feel perfectly complemented, a full range of the Epoch’s ideas and volumes.

There was a particularly beautiful moment, and perhaps one that best manifested the Epoch’s sense of camaraderie, during Told Slant’s set. It happened during the song “I am Not,” when Sprague, Walworth and Smith, united onstage to repeat, “I am not who I want to be.”

Although the Epoch’s members have laughed at how their mix-and-match arrangement makes it near-impossible to discuss just one act, moments like “I am Not” made it clear that the choice to fill in each other’s bands is more than just one of convenience.

“We were grown together and are growing still,” says their Twitter bio. For those at the UU Society, that couldn’t be more apparent.

Will Doolittle can be reached at [email protected]

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