Live Review: Screaming Females, Vacation, and Upset at Soda Bar, August 17, 2015

Screaming Females
Photo credit: Jason Persse

Three bands associated with New Jersey independent label Don Giovanni Records (also home to Shellshag, Downtown Boys, and Waxahatchee) brought some DIY punk to Soda Bar Monday night.

Supporting their recent EP release ’76, openers Upset proved it might just be the next all-star pop-punk band. Front woman Ali Koehler (ex-Best Coast/Vivian Girls), stepped out from behind her drum kit to be on lead guitar and vox, Rachel Gagliardi (of Slutever) was on bass and vox, Lauren Freeman (ex-Benny the Jet Rodriguez) was on guitar, and none other than Patty Schemel (ex-Hole) took on the drums.

Playing a fast-paced, energetic set, second opener Vacation supported their third LP release this year, Non-Person. The set was complete with frontman Jerri Queen’s lizard-tongue mic licking, bassist Evan Wolff’s jumping across stage, and John Hoffman’s head banging. But Dylan McCartney really deserves a shout-out for his harmonizing vocals, which he delivered while drumming like a beast. Needless to say, these guys know how to rock, and they properly channeled punk, power pop, and hardcore from across the decades.

Headlining the night, Screaming Females played an impressive 999th show in the 10 years they’ve been together to longtime fans and newcomers alike. Touring in support of their sixth LP release, February’s Rose Mountain, the band took to the stage and rocked out like we were in a New Brunswick basement during an apocalypse. Guitar goddess and vocalist Marissa Paternoster delivered authoritative solos, jamming away in between her fuming vibrato. Screaming Females are known for their DIY punk/indie rock, and the songs from their latest album were polished with a little less screeching and bit more yowling, all without sacrificing any authenticity.

The trio played a variety from the Screaming Females canon including “Adult Army” from Power Move (2009) and “Rotten Apple” from Ugly (2012) in addition to several tracks from Rose Mountain. Screaming Females wasted no time in between songs, blending seemingly improvised transitions from one track to the next, better than your favorite DJ. Attendees were seduced into musical foreplay with Paternoster’s solo during “Criminal Image” as the tempo methodically built up and finally gave way to orgasmic shredding.

Things slowed down for “Hopeless” — undoubtedly the potential hit single of the record — as fans reverently sang along to the lyrics “I’m not hopeless / helpless / or begging you to stay / it’s just turning out that way.” The brief stay of somberness immediately backslid into “Triumph.” The song’s undulating bass line steadily propelled the audience up the mountain until the peak was in sight and a sense of urgency to reach to the top mixed with self-doubt that maybe it’s all an illusion set in. Enter Paternoster’s guitar inching closer and closer, holding on for dear life, and the final stanzas, “I know it’s real / I want to feel / all of the things I’ve been refused / and celebrate my first victory / destroy my history with you.”

While Paternoster generally garners the most attention for packing a pint-sized punch by way of her skill with tones, mild experimentation with effects, and distinctive vocals, Screaming Females bandmates “King” Mike Abbate and Jarrett Dougherty really deserve just as many kudos. Dougherty’s technical drumming acted as an engine driving the trio toward their destination, and Abbate brought bass lines to the forefront à la prog-rock with his Rickenbacker. Together, Screaming Females produced art that can only be described as sonic porn.

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