|Photo by: Haylee Pearl|
Marissa Paternoster’s eyes sometimes roll into the back of her head when she sings.
This has something to do with the fact that she is the frontwoman for the gleefully noisy New Jersey three-piece Screaming Females and more do to with the the fact that she is, in all likelihood, possessed by a demon.
Her jaw practically unhinges when she cries out with more brutal force than logic suggests a young woman in the neighborhood of 5-feet tall should be able to muster. She also strangles some otherworldly riffs out of her electric guitar with a sort of inhuman ability that left most of the eardrums in the audience at The Bell House stunned, bruised and a little terrified.
However, Paternoster is used to this kind of thing, because she has been making teeth-shattering punk music with drummer Jarrett Dougherty and bassist King Mike for about six years, and she appears to be in control of her demon--for the moment.
Now touring in support of their fifth album Ugly, Screaming Females spent the second night of their tour at the half bar/half ballroom Bell House in Brooklyn, New York, playing to an enthusiastic crowd of a couple hundred who came to hear the aforementioned female deliver the name-promised screaming.
The audience full of Brooklynites were psyched to hear the faster, punchier tracks from the band’s first albums, but also welcomed the newer stuff that is more melodic but no less deadly.
It had only been three days since the release of their latest album, so the band was still acclimating new material to the setlist. Out of the 14 outstanding tracks on Ugly, only five made it into the show.
Album-opener “It All Means Nothing” is an altogether irresistible new song that also served as kick-off for the concert. Paternoster assaulted her poor guitar and furiously shook her black mop of a haircut through the new tune, making it clear that the night would be neither subtle nor subdued, just in case anyone had any doubts.
Paternoster seemed like a lovely person when she was chatting with fans around the merch table before the show and flitting around the venue in a faded black dress that looked like it came from the dustiest rack in the deepest corner of the thrift store. But, when she blasted through the dark and heavy “Extinction” and the speedy hell-raiser “Tell Me No,” it was hard to shake the feeling that she might actually be insane and she could at any moment leap off the stage and eat you.
You get the sense that some pretty intense built-up aggression, or perhaps the devil, is chewing away at her soul. When she sang the line “I don’t get high, / I can’t unwind,” from the new track “High,” it's totally believable.
The evil fiend guided the band through some of Castle Talk’s best tracks, the straightforward rock track “I Don’t Mind It” and the slow-burning masterpiece “Wild.”
They kept the conversation to a minimum. The male Females stayed quiet while Paternoster, whose speaking voice is surprisingly soft and meek, repeatedly paid thanks to the opening bands Swearin’ and Aye Nako, both female-fronted rock bands from the New York area.
The band mostly stuck to playing its loudest and fastest, appeasing the audience’s appetite for the socially sanctioned violence one usually associates with a punk concert. The mosh-inducing material coerced some serious pogoing and head-banging that gradually intensified throughout the show and culminated with the second-to-last song before the encore, “Starve the Beat,” at which point almost everyone basically lost their shit.
However, the audience suffered no loss of energy and was just as responsive to the expansive, expository set-closer “Doom 84,” which is both brand new and, at almost eight minutes, the longest song in the Screamale’s catalog. The sophisticated build-and-release of tension paired with Paternoster’s ever-present careening death howl proved that the band can carry an epic jam track as effectively as a they can pound out a two-minute punk stomper.
The amps were still abuzz and the audience was still trying to think of a good chant when the band was already back to the stage for one more song, which was introduced thusly: “Do you guys know the Grateful Dead? Well, this song isn’t by them.”
It was during the finale performance of “Boyfriend” that Paternoster succumbed to the evil spirit living inside of her and proceeded to roll around on the floor, bang her head against the pedal board, knock over her guitar and scream bloody murder while holding the microphone between her teeth.
And then without even bidding goodbye to the slightly shellshocked audience, she got up and staggered off the stage, looking completely bewildered by her own behavior. And just like that, the show was over. The demon apparently survived another night.
It is unclear what an evil spirit would want with a mousy young woman from New Jersey or why it has chosen to express itself through blisteringly loud electric guitar and what must be the world’s most resilient pair of lungs.
Luckily for Screaming Females fans, however, the band’s fearless leader has chosen to exorcise her demons on a stage in front of strangers for money and harness her curse to make some of the most exciting, powerful and intense music out there. It's beyond what mere mortals can achieve on their own. So don't pray for Paternoster.
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