Rocking the Basements of New Brunswick with Screaming Females


The storied New Brunswick, New Jersey, basement show is alive and well. Grungy, loud, and literally underground, these shows have been a source of local pride for years and a sign of enterprising, creative life in an underdog of a college town with a serious shortage of “proper” venues. These days, the format’s endurance is owed in no small part to the dizzying energy and appealing earnestness of Screaming Females, a cunning punk-rock trio fronted by one pint-size, guitar-shredding (and, yes, screaming) 22-year-old female—Marissa Paternoster—and ferociously backed by two slightly more demure males on drums (Jarrett Dougherty) and bass (the appropriately named Mike Rickenbacker).

Whether they’re making the floor tremble at Brooklyn DIY hot spot Silent Barn, playing beneath a perilously low and crumbling ceiling in New Brunswick, or performing all lit up at the Music Hall of Williamsburg (where they recently opened for Throwing Muses), a Screaming Females show is a noisy, thrilling thing. Wearing a trademark vintage mandarin dress as she wails and pumps out frenetic riffs, Paternoster’s bangs fall over her eyes, her mouth stretched in a cartoonish oval that echoes her glossy bowl-cut as her voice swoops between throat-bleeding howls and catchy choruses, the disciplined racket of the rhythm section seething behind her. The band’s new full-length, Power Move, their third, is full of prickly rock and darkly clever tunes that blend angsty yelling, feverish melodies, and guitar-goddess solos in ways that variously recall Sleater-Kinney, Fugazi, and the Gits, with occasional hints of the kind of slinky, dirty blues perfected by the Gossip.

The disc comes out in the thick of another round of near-constant, cross-country touring, which only helps the Females promote tourism in their beloved New Brunswick: “When you play 50 to 100 shows in a year, you owe a lot of people favors,” Dougherty explains. Since their hometown is an easy stop between Philly and New York, they make a point of setting up shows for touring bands that might otherwise skip Jersey entirely. And touring so extensively themselves, they’ve gotten used to watching as people discover them. Dougherty dreamily recalls driving cross-country to play a sprawling San Francisco basement filled with hundreds of people in 2007—the end of their first song was greeted by a moment of stunned silence, followed by an ecstatic burst of affection. As Power Move spreads word of their delicious clamor, the band will surely be met with less surprise—but no less amazement.

Screaming Females play Death by Audio April 20