As Marissa Paternoster, Jarrett Dougherty, and King Mike walk up to the stage at Wellington’s Valhalla, they virtually go unnoticed. Or maybe it is just the politeness of Wellingtonians. Regardless, the trio take their spots and do some last minute adjustments and tuning. Not a word is said between the three, and only the chatter of the crowd can be heard. Then suddenly, Paternoster revs up her guitar, and Screaming Females‘ concert has commenced.
For sixty minutes, the trio from New Brunswick, New Jersey took the sold-out crowd on a head-throbbing ride. If this was a roller coaster, the trip was full of loops, dives, and mind-benders with not a single moment to catch one’s breath. This was punk-rock in its finest form.
Two Kiwi bands kicked off the night with aplomb. Auckland-based Bozo got things started, sharing their psychedelic-infused, jangly witch-rock. Just as it sounds, the quintet’s music is multi-layered and induced various, and often competing, emotions. Their music is creepy and throbbing at times, where you just want to rock your head back and forth. Drummer and lead singer Yolanda Fagan is the primary suspect for this, as her guttural vocals and percussion work are spine-tingling. The surf-rock notes, however, caused the opposite reaction. The jangly vibes from the guitars, the smooth waves of synth, and the chimes of the tambourines (yes, Bozo has a dedicated tambourine player, which surprisingly was essential to the music) were groovy and infectious, causing involuntary dancing The two approaches seemed to be odd at first, yet the band has found the perfect formula that melds together LA Witch with Mac DeMarco. Creepy but cool.
Street Chant followed, offering a short but blistering set of indie rock, riot girrl, and punk rock. Think Black Honey meets The Coathangers meets Sleater-Kinney (although they may not wish for such a comparison), and that is what you get with this Auckland trio. While frontwoman Emily Littler was battling an illness (she came on stage equipped with a roll of toilet paper), the band blasted through a 20-minute set that included the raging “Insides” and the melodic but rocking “Pedestrian Support League”.
The set was kept short as Littler, Billie Rogers, and Christopher Varnham will be returning to Wellington in September as part of their farewell, mini-tour. Street Chant, unfortunately, recently announced they were breaking up after nearly a decade as a band (Littler and Rogers are the two remaining, original members). Just as I discover a band making some really great, introspective music, they will be starting on a new journey. We wish Street Chant all the best because this band is really, really good.
For years, Rich has long spoken highly about Screaming Females, encouraging everyone to see them when they were “in the neighborhood”. While I am familiar with the band’s music, this was the first opportunity to see them (I missed their gig in Ottawa in April 2015). Their studio work has always been great, but one must watch them live to truly appreciate their collective talents. Screaming Females are not just another punk-rock band whose sole intention is to blow your mind. They are three musicians with serious talent.
People’s eyes will always fall first on frontwoman Marissa Paternoster. She may be short in stature, but Paternoster is a giant within the guitar world. SPIN in 2012, for example, named Paternoster the 77th greatest guitar player on the planet, ahead of the likes of more recognizable names like David Navarro of Jane’s Addiction, Annie Clark (St. Vincent), and Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard. Her style is unlike most within her genre, infusing a blues-rock influence along with hard rock, heavy metal, and 70s psychedelic rock. Paternoster’s multi-genre sound is what helps distinguish Screaming Females from other punk-rock outfits.
Jarrett Dougherty (drums) and King Mike (bass), though, are a fantastic rhythm section combo. It is easy to get caught up in Paternoster’s mad guitar skills, but Dougherty and Mike made their presence felt. Dougherty has a great sense of pace and intensity. Whereas a lot of drummers in punk-rock bands will just pound the drums as hard as they can, Dougherty masterfully knew when to inflict pain on his kit and when to lay off and allow the other two to shine.
Mike, meanwhile, is difficult to ignore, as he stands nearly a foot-and-a-half taller than Paternoster. He is, however, one tremendous bass player, providing several chord progressions between and within songs. He is not also not the standard, stoic bassist, frantically oscillating his head and doing the occasional windmill. If the venue was bigger and he had the opportunity, there is little doubt that Mike would have crowd surfed if given the opportunity.
Despite fighting fatigue and illness, Screaming Females’ concert was riveting. The setlist consisted of songs from the band’s six-album discography that spans over 10 years. The set commenced with “Rose Mountain”, the title track of their 2015 album. The song opened with an edgy, blues-rock-ish instrumental before Paternoster’s vocals kicked in, and it provided the perfect kickoff to the night. The intensity continued with the power rock number “A New Kid” (from 2010’s Castle Talk), on which Paternoster seemed to channel her inner Tony Iommi. The ferocious “Triumph” followed, and it offered more of the no-nonsense rock.
Possibly in honor of New Zealand, the band included the grunge rocker, “Sheep”, which is also from Castle Talk. On this track, the star is Mike, whose pounding bassline provided the aching heartbeat to the song. “Broken Neck” provided the one “down moment”, but the breather did not last long as the trio intensified it to end with a raucous ending. With “Lights Out” (from 2009’s Power Move), Screaming Females showed a dramatic side, slowing things down slightly before ripping into an explosive, hard-rock number that featured an intoxicating solo by Paternoster. Not to be outdone, “Ripe” was a manic experience with Dougherty leading the way on this fiery track with his Scott Asheton pacing.
The combination of “Lights Out” and “Ripe” was the perfect bridge to the song’s finale, “Doom 84”. This witch-rock number, which was already an epic song on 2012’s Ugly, was extended even further to be a monstrous number. The song encapsulated the entire day in roughly 10 minutes – a whirlwind, intense, and exhilarating roller-coaster experience that took us on heart-pounding drops and cataclysmic heights. With this kind of live show and presence, one has to ask, “Why aren’t more people talking about them?” This band is too good to be ignored for long.
- Rose Mountain
- A New Kid
- Cool (new song)
- Broken Neck
- Starving Dog
- Lights Out
- Doom 84
Sorry, no photos because I’m an awful photographer
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