White Eagle Hall was packed for two nights with perceptibly cool folks; the creative and kind types who don’t seem as prevalent in the wild, surely just two or three tops per any typical bus or train car, statistically. But here they all were, seemingly 100% of the scene at the Annual Garden Party presented by NJ’s beloved pure-rock export, Screaming Females. Curating Jersey City pop-ups and shows for the long weekend, the New Brunswick legends had attracted a gregarious throng of bold open minds and shyly crossed arms. There were both locals and out-of-staters in this rainbow of colorful DIY hair, patch and pin wit, middle-finger earrings, and hand-sewn battle jackets with those extra-pointy studs that give some bouncers angst. The energy in the venue was electric, and adding to the buzz, Screaming Females had stocked the joint with their own label made by MA’s Springdale Beer Co.: the Drop by Drop Hazy IPA, inspired by the eponymous screamales song. Springdale was “going out with a bang” before an indefinite hiatus, which is a real bummer when you taste their delicious beer. With an intense flavor to match their guitar-powered sound, this 6.5% ABV brew was super hoppy and loopy, encased in awesome label art in Marissa Paternoster’s unmistakably sinuous illustration style.
You can always count on top-shelf supporting acts when Paternoster is involved. Night one featured a high-energy highlight known as Truth Cult, a passionate acoustic performance from Nina Nastasia – during which Paternoster joined her for a swell duet – and a hype-driving set from hip-hop duo Armand Hammer. Nastasia also told a cute anecdote about blurting out that it was her birthday to justify buying the bottle of Kings County Distillery whiskey she had toted onto the stage (you know P&W had to report on it). The night two openers delivered too with the hard-edged power of Gel, a synth-fueled ska party from Catbite, and the warm harmony-laden tunes of Laura Stevenson. The Garden Party festivities were timed around the release of Screaming Females’ ultra-catchy new record, Desire Pathway, and the thoughtful band had even shared the news with fans via postcards they’d dropped in the mail that week.
The modest Paternoster, who once called fashion her “worst nightmare,” will probably laugh at any attention to this detail – but she really subverted expectations in a way that warrants a mention. On night one, she was dressed to the nines, having swapped her often all-black attire for a royal blue feather-patterned dress right out of the fifties. The real surprise, however, came on night two: not because she shook it up, but because she wore the same look again. We’re in a time when the trend of throwing away clothes after just one use for Insta or TikTok has pushed the fast fashion industry to second place for pollution behind the oil and gas sector. The way Paternoster pulled an Einstein by rocking a repeat was either a clever remark on wasteful social norms, or an unintentional effect of her unwavering focus on the music, and both statements are damn inspiring.
With only one repeated song throughout their two-night run, Screaming Females made all genders let out noteworthy screams – semi-demonic screeches of utter joy – as the intricate synergy of Paternoster, bassist King Mike Abbate, and drummer Jarrett Dougherty poured into the boisterous venue. Even with such an explosive rhythm section demanding focus, it was challenging to yank your gaze away from Paternoster’s mind-blowing guitar work for more than a few seconds. Her nimble hands must move in fast Fibonacci spiral pathways over the strings, because a divine kind of precision permeates her wide range of tones. Paternoster – who has long deserved a high ranking on every ‘best guitarist’ list out there – has a unique ability to surge between dainty, flowery licks and deep, viscous riffs at the speed of wait-what-just-happened?
It seems like it can’t get any better until she lets out her booming, soulful vocals that soar all over the scale with operatic finesse. Abbate’s bass work has a gooey, scrupulous quality that makes everything hit harder, and it’s part of a finely-tuned machine with Dougherty’s mathematical drumming. Their combined style is such a strong complement to Paternoster’s chops that it seems like they’re adamantly sneaking beneath her singing and shredding – an admirable feat, surely requiring extra control by the guys during such pulse-accelerating songs. Before Screaming Females had walked out on stage, both nights had a boxing match-style intro dropping the sponsors, Springdale Beer Co., Lakehouse Recording Studios, Ancient Artifax, Don Giovanni Records, Cozz Coffee and Russo Music, and a welcome to the Unofficial Screaming Females Fan Club President, Charlie Birdwell.
Screaming Females’ night one setlist was extra special, and not just because the new bangers from Desire Pathway sounded sick live. Big singalong hit “Glass House” came out early as the fourth song, which was a wild surprise since it was the first song of their encore on night two. And all of us hardcore fans of Rose Mountain got a dream-come-true dose of “Empty Head” (second in the set), “Burning Car” (fifth), and a stunning finale of “Triumph,” “Hopeless,” and “Ripe” for the encore. That richly raw ending seems to have happened thanks to a note passed to Paternoster from a fan, which appeared to say, “Please play ‘Ripe!’” When the guitar hero, in her quiet speaking voice, stated beforehand, “Hold on. I’m making sure that I’m in tune so that this sounds extra good,” the room went astonishingly silent in the seconds before they dove in. Clearly, no one wanted to be even a slight disruption in the presence of such a brilliant musical force.
Night One Setlist
“My Dead Wife”
“Bird in Space”
“It’s All Said And Done”
Like a subtle sitcom joke that stretches between episodes, night one had begun with Paternoster softly murmuring “ummmm annnnnd thaaaat’s my banter!” after a brief thank you to everyone. Then night two found the shy songstress saying, “I’ll save all my other great banter for later,” and announcing at the end, “I’m all out of banter” – particularly wholesome given the rarity of her short-and-sweet interjections. Screaming Females’ second show was a whirlwind of different material eaten up by an even more ravenous crowd, who went crazy for big moments like “Bird in Space,” a gleaming bonfire of warm vocal moments, and repeat-mandatory new jam “Beyond the Void.” The crowdsurfing started just six songs in, right as Paternoster was singing with magnificent vibrato on “It All Means Nothing.”
Three more crowdsurfers popped up during “Desert Train,” and by the next rager, “Doom 84,” it was hard to count how many fans were riding hands; at least thirteen, and several went up again during “Boyfriend.” It was then that Paternoster boldly passed her guitar way out to the masses (the nearest surfer caught it and cared for it), and then sacrificed the microphone too. When her loving fans passed the mic and guitar back, the badass frontwoman gave a funny shrug as if she didn’t need those items anymore, which caused a frantic group chant of “one more song” demanding the encore. Before we were treated to the mosh-prompting “Glass House” and “Fall Asleep,” Paternoster said, “I have the microphone, so I’m gonna tell Mike and Jarrett that I love them.” Her quick whispered goodbye at the end, “Thanks-have-a-happy-night,” seemed humorous after a legendary experience like that, because “happy” was such a massive understatement.
Night Two Setlist
“Beyond the Void”
“I’ll Make You Sorry”
“It All Means Nothing”
“Let Me Into Your Heart”
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Images: Shayne Hanley