The tiny frame of Marissa Paternoster leans into the microphone as her snarling mouth shatters and engulfs the static of flailing bodies packed into the Turf Club Friday night, issuing a message that explosive contents do come in small packages and they will detonate.
Paternoster, a one-two punch of bellowing vocals and wailing guitar, heads the New Jersey punk rock trio Screaming Females. The group, with Jarrett Dougherty on drums and “King” Mike Abbate on bass, filled the Turf Club with a sold-out show trailing the release of their new album, All At Once. Groups Radiator Hospital and Kitten Forever took the stage as openers.
While the band, which formed in 2005 and have released seven full-length albums, is a force on their own, Paternoster is a different animal entirely. Wearing a black baby doll dress and red Dr. Martens, she looks like a small insect on stage until her fingers start working. Then the guttural hum in her throat begins building and she grows to a presence that swallows and drowns the audience whole.
Chatting quietly with the diverse audience between songs, Paternoster’s speaking voice is honey, a sharp juxtaposition to the deep noises that seem to impossibly escape her as she simultaneously sings and screams.
The sound of Screaming Females drifts between sludgy punk and melodic alternative pop—all the in-between bits great—though the few desperate and jarring yowls fed to the audience like treats were the most captivating parts of the performance. These instances left me with a want to see the band push the limits and bust them with a sledgehammer. They are capable of it, and there were glimmers of that instinct to destroy the confines of a small venue and delve into unabashed chaos.
Through displaying complicated guitar work and an extreme range of vocals, Paternoster still finds the time and energy to jump and kick around the compact, raised stage—sometimes spraying a stream of sweat from her black bob that is illuminated by the muted purple lights along the back wall.
The trio is also humble. They haul and set up their own equipment and showcase art alongside the music with a quasi-abstract face gracing the drum kit and the words “get off the internet” scrawled on an amp. Paternoster took out an Instax mini camera and snapped a pre-show picture of the crowd, a gesture that was so charming I knew I’d love anything coming from the band before they even started playing.
Waiting for the main act is not difficult, as the two opening bands created an atmosphere already teeming with palpable verve and the beginnings of mayhem.
Kitten Forever, a three-piece feminist art-punk outfit from Minneapolis, is a messy band that fulfilled all I could have hoped for in a female punk group in the best way possible.
Sounding like a PA system being transmitted underwater, the band uses an old yellow telephone rigged into a lo-fi mic to splatter their spoken lyrics into the audience.
Every few songs, Corrie Harrigan, Laura Larson and Liz Elton do a quick-switch between bass, drums and vocals, providing each member a chance to sing and play different instruments. It keeps the energy and aesthetic of the performance unique and essentially kicks ego and an emphasis on technical skill out the door.
Elton—with slime green blunt baby bangs, a Medusa piercing and a yellow telephone tattoo on her arm reminiscent of the microphone—is most often found on vocals, but also plays bass multiple times while Harrigan and Larson yell into the phone.
Sporting a wrinkled and ripped PJ Harvey t-shirt, Harrigan doesn’t seem to stick to any one instrument much longer than others but brings a no-frills attitude to each.
The spunky and small Larson seems to feel most comfortable on drums and bass, though she often shouts and speaks into the mic, dancing around with abandon in a navy blue and white patterned jumpsuit.
Kitten Forever is not a group to miss if you like badass women and fun, but they still deserve a day in court even if you don’t.
Radiator Hospital, an indie-rock group from Philadelphia, is currently on tour with Screaming Females and tone down the atmosphere following the Kitten Forever commotion with short, garage and bedroom-type songs reminiscent of the 90s.
Sam Cook-Parrott leads with nasally vocals and high-energy guitar, while Cynthia Schemmer attracted my attention with her stoicism, light blue denim jumpsuit, tattoo-covered arms and hair half pulled high on her head. Schemmer plays guitar and provides some vocals. The band is completed by Jon Rybicki on bass and Jeff Bolt on drums.
With cutesy and simplistic songs like “Cut Your Bangs,” the group provides a necessary and melodic shift between Kitten Forever and Screaming Females. I almost felt like I missed something from Radiator Hospital as I let my body unwind during their set before being pulled into the undertow again.
The sheer volume provided by both the Turf Club and the bands who made its walls vibrate until midnight made my ears ring in a way they haven’t in a long time. It felt right for the small groups with big sound, and it is the way it’s supposed to feel after a rock show—all spikes in your brain and dust in your mouth and goosebumps oozing from your skin.