Wednesday, February 17, 2010
This show was epic.
I showed up late to the Don Gionvanni Records showcase at Bowery Ballroom, missing Groucho Marxists, which I hear is a shame. But Black Wine was a groovy surprise to walk into. It's especially groovy when drummer Miranda Taylor sings. If you can never decide whether you like raw '90s alternative or raw West Coast pop punk, then this is the band for you.
But I was there to see The Measure [SA] and Screaming Females mainly. Having never been to New Brunswick, I know there's something a little untoward about my fixation on punk bands from there, but they are doing it how I like it. Singer and guitar player Lauren Measure of the The Measure is one of the greatest poets of our generation. I was certain of this as the band whipped through their stirring song "Drunk by Noon" somewhere in a set that gave me chills before the band's members had even built up much steam.
However, Marisa Paternoster, guitarist and frontwoman of Screaming Females, might not actually be from Earth. Or, at least, there is something distinctly otherworldly about the power trio's music. Speaking prosaically and literally, Screaming Females has a lot of disparate influences. Many of these influences can be heard though such pedestrian venues as mainstream classic rock radio. And yet I hear in this band a kind of speculative musical fiction. I hear an alternate emo, the sound of melodic hardcore if its development had been defined more by a preoccupation with spiritual ecstasy, rather than disillusionment and loss. (And also if it had been influenced more by the likes of Neil Young than by heavy metal, certainly.)
This is not to say that I think Screaming Females is an isolated musical incident. There is a tradition among the Discord and Discord-type bands that I feel stems from a kind of clean, spare American mysticism, by which I probably mean Transcendentalism. There's a trace of it in almost every emo band I like, even Rainer Maria, but Rites of Spring, Lungfish and Moss Icon are the easiest examples of what I'm talking about. When I'm feeling crazy I like to throw every emo band ever and all of D.C. hardcore into this. In the cold fire and hermeticism of both the melodies and the lyrics I hear what it would be like if the worldview of Emerson or Thoreau or Whitman had a sound.
And in the unmoored wonder of Paternoster's shredding and the glossolalia of her lyrics I hear that worldview at once perfected and exploded, both brought to living warmth and utterly transformed. I hear the American mysticism that I have been searching for suddenly colorized and revealed. This is probably not the first time an American music fan has had such an experience and, in both cases, I'm obviously hearing what I want to hear. (I'd speculate on what role the genders of the musicians might play in all of this, but I'm far enough out on a limb for one post, and that isn't really the kind of speculative fiction I'm trying to write anyway.)
Paternoster helped back up my raving internal monologue, singing in powerful, incantatory tones and appearing in a high-collared eggplant-colored dress, looking like a mod guitar priestess from space. Her reticent stage patter mostly consisted of referring to the obvious with a certain nervous deadpan humor.
There were other bands too. JEFF the Brotherhood gave leather pants and dirt-staches a good name and Shellshag is a musical phenomenon (and adorable couple) that I would happily revisit. But you know who I was there to see.
Download a sampler of Don Giovanni bands from the label.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Lyman