Screaming Females are here to save rock ‘n’ roll.
Actually they were here, at Toast on July 22nd, thanks to the Mini-LAVA Fest.
I’ll leave it to someone else to write a well-deserved love letter to the venue and the LAVA folks for the broader show. This is all about Screaming Females, the band which has restored my faith in the future of guitar driven rock music.
There’s been a lot of worry in some quarters about the diminishing role of the guitar in popular music, to the point that the guitar manufacturers are becoming very concerned about their future. Their heyday is far behind them and many wonder how long the downward trend in guitar sales can continue before major consolidation or the outright loss of significant manufacturers. Screaming Females are this generation’s best hope for the future of guitar music.
That hope was on full display at Toast as Marissa Paternoster, Jarrett Dougherty and Mike Abbate took the stage. They drove ahead with a distinct rock flavor that defies easy categorization, steadily amping up the intensity as they went along. They occasionally threw in a more mellow or slower set of bars, but it was a head fake. Any time Screaming Females give you a few seconds to catch your breath, you can be sure a thorough face melting is just around the corner. I’ve been saying for a couple of years that Screaming Females is my favorite current band, but after Saturday’s show I may just drop that qualifier. It was certainly the best rock show I’ve seen in several years.
Dougherty and Abbate are one of the most effective rhythm sections playing anywhere today and they are a high water mark among acts of the last few years. Some could certainly argue that there are better bass players or drummers out there, and they might be right on a technical level, but these two have a strength beyond mere virtuosity. Though both are certainly top shelf players — their ability to work seamlessly together to drive the music forward, to create a vibe and emotional tone, rather than just a bed for Paternoster’s own virtuosity, is where their real power lies. Either is a strong musician in his own right, but together they are exceptional and as distinctive as any rhythm combo playing rock music.
Paternoster is this generation’s first bona fide guitar hero, one of its most charismatic front women, and punk AF, all rolled into one. Her voice is distinct, with haunting vibratos, belting out sincere and clever lyrics that are memorable and relatable precisely because they often leave each listener room for interpretation even as they rock to the infectious hooks and solos. Her command of the stage is unquestionable. Though often noted for not being a very large person physically, Paternoster is larger than life on stage. She is always the biggest presence in any venue where she performs. Her mix of punk aesthetic and cool distance paradoxically manages to suggest sincerity and maybe even a little vulnerability.
If you haven’t seen and heard Marissa Paternoster shred, there’s nothing to be said in simple text that can clue you in, but I’ll try anyway. She is bananas. Whether you measure her by composition, tone, speed, improvisation, manipulation of effects, or raw power commanding the stage, Paternoster is head and shoulders above most guitarists on the scene today. She shows legit chops in every aspect of rock guitar. Whether it’s a heavy metal solo, effects heavy sludge-fest, or deep grooving hook, Marissa not only has the ability to play it, but the remarkable ability to always make every note, every phrase, every noisy shriek seem critical to the composition, and she does it live with moment to moment improvisation. She drops in hints and phrases that feel familiar to fans of almost every type of guitar rock from classic rock to ska and southern rock to grunge, yet somehow always sounds just like Screaming Females and no one else.
This show was exceptional on so many levels. It was an ideal frame for the art of Screaming Females’ music. The venue was a great match for the show and a way more “up close and personal” place than I would have expected Screaming Females to play. The crowd’s energy was the best I’ve seen at a show in Tidewater in a long time. When Screaming Females took the stage the fans packed around on three sides and throughout the set got more and more into the band. It was the first time in a long while I’ve seen a true pit at a local show that was more about everyone having fun together than the most aggressive guys hi-jacking it and pushing everyone else out. It was old school in the best possible way.
As crowd members took off from the stage to crowd surf it reminded me of a different, more reckless, and more fun time in rock music, in the punk clubs and parties where I cut my teeth with the likes of Sonic Youth. When Paternoster backed up to the crowd to be hoisted around the pit, as she ripped a blazing solo the entire time, it was the kind of moment you just don’t forget and it was 100% in that moment and of this time. When the crowed sang the choruses together at the top of their lungs as the band wailed, it was close to magic. On a 90 degree July night, with a couple hundred new friends packed in butt to belly, first swaying and then moshing with the unbridled joy of a proper, guitar driven, punk-based, rock band, everything was right with the world and I knew rock and rock guitar were going to be okay. Screaming Females told me so.
About the photographer:
Grace Garvin Little is the Co-Founder and President of Brink Records and an Executive Director of the East Coast Music Conference. She previously was the co-founder and CMO at true-indie.com and a partner at PMS records. She also worked as a layout and copy editor at music magazines. She holds a BS in Communications from ODU and an MBA from Regent University.