Some people are born and somewhere during the course of their life, decide to pick up a musical instrument. Some people appear to be born specifically to pick it up. Screaming Females guitarist Marissa Paternoster is the latter.
At the New Brunswick trio's stop at The Red Room on Sunday, Paternoster demonstrated a rare level of control over her instrument, moving seamlessly from wailing solos to humming melodies to snarling riffs to squealing accents and twinkling ambience, while perfectly balancing pop sensibilities with dissonant melodic phrasing that alternately complimented and shadowed her vocals. That level of skill was especially appealing in a zeitgeist focused more on aesthetics than chops.
The band was power-pop in its roots, offering straight-ahead no-nonsense rockers. But Paternoste's stellar guitar work on top of a really solid rhythm section sets Screaming Females apart from their contemporaries. Especially as despite her prodigious skill, she never let her guitar work overshadow the songs as a whole, in the way that too many guitarists do. If the song required a blistering solo, it got one; for six bars until the turnaround rather than on and on and on until the guitarist finally decides he or she is done.
The overall effect would be like combining the pace and sound of Cheap Trick with the style of of The Yeah Yeah Yeah's playing songs written by Television's Tom Verlaine and sung by Exene Cervenka. But perhaps the most impressive part of the show was how well the band imbued each song with distinguishing characteristics and sounds to set it apart from the others. A straight power-popper was followed by an evil disco track and then a rocker sporting riffs of the Black Sabbath variety. Yet they all remained, without a doubt, Screaming Females tracks to the marrow.
And though while in the throes, Paternoster whipped her head around, shredding and howling like a true rock 'n' roll savage, her stage banter was pained and awkward. Clearly more comfortable singing than talking, she finished the set by drawing her finger across her throat despite an audience desperate for another song. Then she unplugged her amp and shrank into the backdrop. She was there to do one thing: play guitar. The rest was just going through the motions.