Thursday, October 21
The Blow and the Screaming Females
Music Hall of Williamsburg
Thursday, October 21
Better than: Trying to find the next big thing.
“Sometimes I feel like when I do the moves,” the Blow’s Khaela Maricich says toward the end of the night, dancing in front of a rapt audience at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, “certain members of the audience look at me like they could have me.” She pauses a beat. “Could they have me? No.” It’s the most subtly bold audience confrontation I’ve ever seen someone attempt at CMJ, and it comes directly after the Screaming Females’s Marissa Paternoster has just pretty much lit the stage on fire at the same venue, and there were probably people wondering about having her too. Now, hopefully, they’re not. These are the acts that CMJ needs far more than they need CMJ, that we need far more than they need us. It restores your faith in this process, watching people do it right. But first, Piano’s on a Thursday afternoon, where people are reliably doing it wrong.
It’s not really Teen Daze’s fault. “I’m just from a little city called Vancouver, Canada,” says a slight, bespectacled Daze (he has a Tumblr, but no first or last name that I know of, which pretty much says it all). “This is my first time in New York, so let’s have a really good time tonight.” What he in fact proceeds to do is prance around a laptop pumping out gentle-rainbow rave and sing about saluting the sun–which, fair enough, it’s not even dark yet outside. Daze could’ve easily called his band Emo Summer, or (in the words of Pitchfork) Slack Memoryfuzz, so close does this stuff loiter to parody at times. At one point he corals what crowd there is to sing along with him. “I don’t want to know,” he starts us off…”where I have to go.” It’s cheery and nonthreatening and nostalgic for things I can’t even remember at this point. “Do you guys feel like dancing?” he asks, though what he seems to be referring to looks closer to a kind of rhythmic knee bend. “I know it’s like five in the afternoon, but come on, we’re young.” This is pretty much exactly the moment that Jon Pareles walks out. We are not far behind him.
And so on to the Screaming Females, about whom we cannot say enough really, though let’s give it a shot. “This is for Ari Up,” Paternoster says between songs. “Rest in peace.” There’s your legacy right there, not so much in the proto-riot grrrl sense as in the unhinged, unselfconscious one, Paternoster’s stentorian, Jello Biafra-trapped-in-a-small-child’s-body vocals rising and falling, her eyes rolling up into her head, her gaze going off somewhere distant as she rips off yet another unfashionably technical guitar solo. You get to the point where you’re really rooting for her to start screaming, for that dense, almost demure mop of black hair to go flying, for the guitar playing to go past whatever friendly, J. Mascis-derived melodic lines she’s playing and into pure showoff territory. Which she does, consistently, and we are happy to see it. “You can’t get on stage after the Screaming Females and half-ass it,” Ted Leo once told us, and he would know.
So would Khaela Maricich. “Screaming Females are the future,” she says, taking the stage. “I hope they live for a really long time.” Tonight, she’s back at CMJ for the first time in four years, and doing the Lindsay Lohan-inspired set she’s been doing for a little while now, starting with exactly zero fanfare, just a rhythmic tapping on the mic and her own quavering voice, singing “I’ve got a peaceful easy feeling, and I know you won’t let me down.” Nope. Here is a good place–right around the moment she launches into “Hey Boy,” say–for a mea culpa, a public acknowledgment of a in-retrospect disastrously heteronormative review this writer gave the Blow’s incandescent Paper Television, back in 2006. Considering the fact that virtually all of Maricich’s new material is a one-woman show devoted to a fictional collaboration with a pop star–“really beautiful in the feminine way, and she had a girlfriend”–struggling to come to terms with her sexuality (Maricich’s putative role in this production is to write the songs this pop star, who is Lindsay Lohan, basically, will sing as part of a comeback/image rehabilitation campaign), this bears mentioning, how badly we once messed this up.
But anyway! Maricich is in full-blown Broadway mode tonight, in a big white shirt and tights, which shirt she belts when she’s really channeling her pop star collaborator/alter-ego, and then unbelts when she’s doing her own stuff. “Picture it,” she says, “back up dancers, smoke machine,” the semantics getting really complicated, as she simultaneously performs as Lohan and narrates a whole origin story involving writing for Lohan, but it’s sweeter than it sounds–actual Blow songs “Parenthesis,” “Come on Petunia,” and “True Affection” all make appearances, in addition to the aforementioned “Hey Boy”–the new songs basically her new record, though she’s coy about that too. “The thing about the album is, it exists,” she says, referring simultaneously to the lost Lohan tapes and real life Blow LP she’s surely making out of them, though it’s been four years now since she’s released something new, and we could really use it.
In the meantime, there’s this, Maricich onstage, walking us through her starlet’s journey from standing on the edge of forbidden love to learning how to kiss and be famous (“You know how every pop star is just a shining point balancing on a pyramid of gay men?” she asks at one point) to getting dumped and humiliated in public. “We’re the Blow,” she says in one last semantic feint. “Thank you so much for letting us experiment.” And with that, some mischievous sound guy throws on the Modern Lovers’s “I’m Straight,” and we head home.
Critical Bias: If you don’t like the Blow then please don’t talk to me.
Overheard: [At Teen Daze, of course:] “This is like the make-out room.”
Random Notebook Dump: Just one band short of a horrific “Women are the best thing about this year’s CMJ” trend piece!