Wednesday, April 11
Despite technical difficulties that ultimately caused frontwoman Marissa Paternoster to end the show early, New Jersey's Screaming Females made a case for being considered among the pantheon of today's great rock trios with a set at The Bishop on Wednesday.
Local punk crew Heinous Orca opened festivities with a frenetic set that recalled the riot grrrl rage of Bikini Kill in sound, if not politics there was definitely a lyric about a monkey dick, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't figurative. Ponyboy played next, giving life to a short set of minute-long noise-punk spazzouts that culminated in the band's frontman handing his guitar to an audience member and running around the venue, high-fiving anyone who would reciprocate.
The Bishop suddenly filled almost to capacity when Screaming Females started tuning up onstage. Within minutes, Paternoster, bassist King Mike and drummer Jarrett Dougherty were launching into their first song. As is usually the case when this band starts a set, there was a noticeable awed silence followed by uproarious applause; that's the power Marissa Paternoster holds over a crowd when she wields a guitar.
To see Paternoster shred and shred is the only suitable verb for what she does is to be tempted to bring up every "women in rock" cliché that's ever been penned. She can't help that her 4'10" frame and taste for purple dresses make the unearthly solos that pour out of her guitar a bit jarring at first. She knows it, too; naming her majority-male band Screaming Females engages the gender issues inherent in any discussion of her role in the group. Helpfully, watching her play for five minutes is enough to forget that 90 percent of the time you see a guitar played like that, it's by a dude with longer hair than her.
Unfortunately, the Bishop set would be defined not by its triumphant highs and there were many, mostly in fierce renditions of material from Ugly, the band's brand new LP but by its frustrating lows. After the first song, Paternoster's amplifier blew out, and she had to borrow one from Ponyboy. She made do, but her pedalboard continued to give her trouble, until she finally, abruptly addressed the crowd, saying: "Everything's broken. We're Screaming Females from New Brunswick, New Jersey. I hope you enjoyed whatever that was."
From the crowd, it was difficult to tell that anything was wrong. The rhythm section and guitar-goddess soloing sounded great on the Bishop's sound system. But Paternoster's frustration overcame the will to play through the glitches, and it cast a pall on even the high points of the evening.
Something felt especially wrong about the timelessness of Screaming Females' punk rock sound being made ephemeral by powers beyond their control. When I think back on this show, I'll try to remember the unstoppable groove the band locked into mid-set and not what finally stopped it.