The inescapable thought about the Screaming Females‘ set on Tuesday, September 24 at the Triple Rock was that if we’re not careful, they’re going to save rock and roll. And they’ll do it while cribbing sounds and skewering moves of every self-important rocker who tried to do it before.
Screaming Females are a tight, expressive rhythm section of bass and drum backing one of the best, most urgent guitarists playing. From the Triple Rock floor, it was often difficult to see singer/guitarist Marissa Paternoster’s shaggy Ramones-ish hair over the seething crush of bodies. At least until she threw a foot up on a monitor and ripped a red-blooded solo like some rock god.
The band is simultaneously familiar and the freshest thing I’ve heard or seen in years. Paternoster is a chimera, an amalgam of parts of legends she’s absorbed over years immersed in the genre—or perhaps born with.
Through “It All Means Nothing” and “Rotten Apples” Tuesday, they played like My War/Slip it In-era Black Flag disciples who decided to update by mainlining Dinosaur Jr. Their songs surged forward while Paternoster laid psychedelic riffs and blistering solos fans in the crowd air guitared on cans of Hamm’s.
Though between songs her voice is small and sounds a bit put on, when the guitars buzz, her vocals flow through the low end with slides and vibrato I imagine might have come had Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick hired the Dead Kennedy’s Jello Biafra as vocal coach.
There were Iggy Pop-level mic makeouts. She strutted through riffs like AC/DC’s Angus Young and popped back Mick Jagger’s rooster wings while the bass and drums thundered over feedback.
On a night when each successive band grew more unique, skilled, and realized, Screaming Females sounded inevitable. If rock was going to save itself, that’s what it would sound like, and you get the sense they know, but don’t care. Over the set the collection of lifted moves rang somewhere between nods and shade.
Their collaboration with 90s alt-rock band Garbage on Patti Smith’s “Because the Night” is huge and crunchy and quickly becomes an exhibition in which Paternoster leaves everyone behind. Shirley Manson and her band mates look stunned and helpless by the end.
There is something distinctly 90s about Screaming Females. I had a hard time not imagining last night they were some kind of reset button on what and who Billy Corgan and the Smashing Pumpkins could’ve been. (Note: I say all that follows as a long-time Pumpkins fan.)
We were finally emerging from a decade of oppression under the heavy yoke of new wave and hair metal and there rose a legitimate guitar virtuoso. Driven by similar rock and psychedelic influences, Corgan strove with great ego to become the biggest rock star to live. It drove him, his band mates, and fans mad. The more his huge frame towered over crowds, lectured reporters, and tried to manufacture his way to eternal life, the less people cared.
And here we are. It took the tiny Paternoster and her fellow ramblers from a small New Jersey punk label to make consistent and organic records, with an affecting live show lacking pomp, baggage, or self-important ‘tude.
“Doom 84,” another track they played from their new record, bests every 7+ minute rocker Corgan ever tried to create.
We’ll see if I stand by all this in a couple days. But right now, jeez louise, do I.
Screaming Females played out of time and place—unencumbered by context or expectations. They played like their brand of rock and roll has been a long time coming. They played like they were possessed. They played like they were sent to save us from ourselves.