Screaming Females are as skilled a live band as they are difficult to classify.
While the new record Rose Window is perhaps their best effort to date, or at the very least a remarkable one, the entire set at Allston’s Great Scott on February 26th was almost startlingly cohesive. Among the sparse on-stage banter, lead singer/guitarist Marissa Paternoster made sure to note which tracks were new, as they easily stand among the strongest the band has released to date.
The New Brunswick trio handled the ebbs and flows of their own catalog deliberately, switching seamlessly between heavily melodic mosh pit-starters to sway-ready surf-y rock and back again. “Empty Head,” the night’s opener, exemplified this to start: the steady, undeniable riff, framed by the rhythm section’s almost marching precision and Paternoster’s locked-in cadence.It injected fury without the chaos, a perfectly deliberate lead in to the charged-up defiance of fan favorite “Rotten Apple.”
The set was an exercise in contrasts: the quieter moments like “Wishing Well” (where Paternoster’s vocals really shine, bested only by her ever-dynamic guitar work) seemed only designed to have an audience lean in and listen more closely.
Which isn’t to say that Screaming Females aren’t loud. They have an undeniable presence, bolstered by sheer force of sound. It’s at once something that strikes as much bigger than the confines of Great Scott’s bar, yet perfectly suited to emphasize its scale. As a rock-solid unit they play with a disproportionate power; there’s something about the driving, stomping force of it that is inherently physical, to the point that it would be a disconnect to look around and find anyone standing still.
Of course, that proved to be impossible. Paternoster herself tore down the barrier between performer and audience by diving through it, with confidence, into the crowd. Like the eye of a hurricane, she held composure with a kind of dangerous grace as unsteady hands attempted to keep her aloft. The controlled chaos of her guitar solos, ripped from her instrument like a force barely within her control, never suffered, even as she fell full-force back onto the stage again. Anyone familiar with Screaming Females’ unique mythology could tell you that she was just as likely to stay there, creating a fiercely intricate melody from quite literally the ground up. In this case, however, she made it back to her feet – if only to launch herself into the crowd again.
The encore couplet of the dreamy “Hopeless” and the rollicking “I Don’t Mind It” perhaps illustrated this best: they played with the conscientiousness of a band with a finger on the pulse of the audience en masse, but unafraid to leave them wanting more.
– Morgan Lawrence