Concert Review

Screaming Females at Trunk Space Last Night

Screaming Females
September 6, 2010
Trunk Space

Marissa Paternoster walked into Trunk Space with the pleasant comfort of returning to a sporadically visited home away from home. She carted in some equipment, cases emblazoned with the name "Screamales" in all caps. She really isn't very tall at all, I thought to myself, maybe reaches five feet. Her speaking voice was delicate and girlish. This is the booming voice and guitar goddess who fronts Screaming Females?

Paternoster reappeared after Lower Dens' set ended. She'd swapped that boyish striped polo and jeans for a mod-inspired red dress, black and white saddle shoes, and some torn up black panty hose with runs in them. She looked like Minnie Mouse or Betty Boop, all red, white and black with a dark chocolate mop of a bowl cut.

From a long lineage of rockers who have formed their sound down in basements surrounding the Rutgers campus, Screaming Females are the heir apparent to the New Brunswick, New Jersey, DIY throne formerly held by the likes of Bouncing Souls and Lifetime. Led by the compact and androgynous Paternoster, the power trio combines strong, rambling bass, relentless drumming plus Paternoster's low howl and penchant for shredding, a la Dinosaur Jr., to make fresh punk noise. 

Screaming Females, henceforth Screamales, busted into raging party anthem "Laura And Marty" from their new LP Castle Talk, officially out in a week via Don Giovanni Records. Paternoster mentioned the record, and said, with a meekness completely foreign to her music, "It's yellow and it has a pony on it." The song kicks in with bleeding, crunchy guitars with Paternoster snarling. It wasn't long before one of her 70s arena rock-style solos demanded all eyes on her tiny hands speeding through the breakdown. They got our attention, and held it with "Bell," one of the stickiest tracks from the band's 2009 breakthrough record Power Move. Paternoster's voice was alternately shrill scream and growling casanova; Patti Smith's readiness to explode and Mick Jagger's bratty sneer. 

The trio delved into some lesser-known tracks like "Baby Jesus," from release Baby Teeth back in 2006, in which Paternoster tapped into a Slits-like islander jangled groove, and melody shaking, gruff yeller "Theme Song," from What If Someone Is Watching Their T.V.? Last night's set varied from gentle rockers to boiling scream-alongs (don't miss the full setlist below), and closed with the new single "I Don't Mind It." 

Paternoster tore up the guitar lines and casually talk-sang, "It's easy and generic so I can mute the beat. And the only one left in the end is gonna be me." By far the most approachable song I can recall in the Screamales' roster, the guitar approaches dreamy and beachy. There's nothing harsh or remotely intimidating. There's not even screaming. The thing about this band is that they're so technically good, to not enjoy at least some aspect of the whole package would be sacrilege. "I Don't Mind It" is a gateway into a bigger forum than the trio have seen yet, and perhaps arenas sized to fit the massive solos that Paternoster shreds are in their future, too. 

Critic's Bias: Screaming Females are one of my favorite finds of the past year and a half. 

The Crowd: Sweaty, head-banging and not as stinky as one might imagine. 

Overheard in the Crowd: "We're used to it." This was in reference to how hot it was. No. No we are not used to it. 

Random Notebook Dump: Lower Dens sound like Sonic Youth on downers mixed with My Bloody Valentine, from Baltimore, with great, fat drums. Dreamy rock.

Setlist: [directly copied from paper list, with interpretations in parentheses]
Pik (Laura and Marty)
Theme (Theme Song)
Jesus (Baby Jesus)
Disgust (No Being Disgusting)
New (A New Kid)
Grapes (Sour Grapes)
Mind (I Don't Mind It)

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Becky Bartkowski is an award-winning journalist and the arts and music editor at New Times, where she writes about art, fashion, and pop culture.
Contact: Becky Bartkowski