Friday, July 10, 2009

Live: Dinosaur Jr. + Screaming Females

When: 6/25
Where: Music Hall of Williamsburg

Though I'd heard the name Screaming Females around a lot before this show, I hadn't bothered to look into the band. I figured I only have room in my brain for just so many bands with feminine names (Women, Sisters, Girls, Little Girls, Some Girls, etc. etc.). Given all these bands, it somehow never occurred to me that "Screaming Females" might be literal, not ironic.

As it happens the band features only one female, but she's definitely screaming and she definitely owns the show. Vocalist and guitarist Marissa Paternoster does shriek more than sing, but what she really does is play the guitar better than just about anyone else around. Her songs are a constant barrage of shredding solos and post-hardcore freakouts.

Paternoster is one of the best guitarists I've seen in ages ever. I'd be happy to see a guitarist this exciting in any form, but having a woman as one of the finset emerging guitarists makes me feel a bit better about everything. While women have made huge in-roads into the world of rock, especially since the riot grrrls of the 90's, virtuoso guitar in metal (even post-punk indie metal) is still uncharted territory. Knowing how difficult it still is for a female musician to earn respect in any music scene, I've got to salute Paternoster not only for her mad skillz, but also for the strength of character it must have taken for her to chose such an unlikely musical path.

Of course, she's not the only member of the band. The two men who share the stage with her are also excellent musicians, blasting out a rock-solid rhythm section strong enough to carry Paternoster's most blazing solos. The three showed a strong musical chemistry that's not easily faked, locking together effortlessly.

Ultimately, though, I didn't personally enjoy the set as much as I wish I could have. That's strictly a matter of personal taste, though - as with many metal-influenced bands, Screaming Females use chromatic scales as their palette, and chromatic scales don't speak to me. For that reason, I'll probably always prefer the only-slightly-less-intense music of Marnie Stern. But I'm glad to have seen Screaming Females and I'm glad they are finally getting some of the attention they clearly deserve. [MySpace]

We were hoping that given the unhappy events of June 25, we might be the one audience ever treated to Dinosaur Jr. covering Michael Jackson. No such luck, but the set was far beyond needing a trick like that to make it memorable. Dinosaur Jr. was one of the great American punk/post-punk bands of the 80's, without whom we'd have no grunge, no shoegaze and certainly no guitar solos like Screaming Females' in our indie music.

After a very unamicable split in the early 90's, Dinosaur reunited a few years ago and recently came out with their second post-reunion LP, Farm. I didn't listen to Farm after it came out, assuming it would be a disappointment. But just before I went to this show, the guy who shares my office told me that he'd been listening to the album non-stop, and a recommendation from him was pretty trustworthy so I checked it out. And it fuckin' rocks.

So I wasn't surprised when show rocked as well. J. Mascis has a reputation as a brilliant guitarist, but when listening to the recordings, it's easy to forget how talented Lou Barlow (bass) and Murph (drums) are as a rhythm section. Barlow's dynamic, heavy hooks make him one of my favorite bassists of all time, and though Mascis has tried to take sole credit for the group's success, seeing them reunited and live proves otherwise.

It seems the extreme tension - at times, hatred - between Barlow and Mascis has faded with age. The unspoken rage that has always hovered between them on stage is part of what has always made their live show so thrilling, and it's a little less fun when it no longer seems likely that one will brain the other with a guitar midway through the show. But they aren't buddy-buddy either - they did not engage each other once during the show (until the encore), Barlow instead exchanging smiles and words with Murph. Mascis was the visible loner, as far way on stage as he could get from the others, though he occasionally addressed Murph, good-naturedly enough.

Though touring to support their new album, Dinosaur treated the audience to a surprising number of old classics. And the new material, as I've mentioned, is great too, stronger in melody and less murky in arrangement than many of the older songs. This may make them a bit more conventional, but there's nothing wrong with that - they're still classic Dinosaur.

Most importantly, the band seemed to be having fun. A cynic like me would assume the reunion was only about the bottom line, and that might be a big part of it, but the band also loves being on stage and loves playing their music. Mascis may have a bit of a perma-frown, but Barlow and Murph looked like they were back in their element - only this time, after years of stress and resentment, they're letting loose and doing it right. [MySpace]

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