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Screaming Females @ Quarters Rock 'n' Roll Palace

July 29, 2012

Jul. 30, 2012
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Can we all just take a moment to appreciate the return to relevance of Quarters Rock 'n' Roll Palace? Not that long ago, the venerable Riverwest establishment had become an unremarkable and occasionally troublesome nightspot, just something you walked past to get someplace else. Now, it's hands down one of the best clubs in the city, continually booking quality local and touring bands of every conceivable variety. Take the rocking, up-and-coming New Jersey power trio Screaming Females, who've generated enough buzz since their 2006 debut, Baby Teeth, that you would think they'd be playing a much larger room, or at least a smaller venue with a more established reputation—but no, tonight they pulled into Quarters, the lovably scrappy little hole in the wall.

Headlining an overstuffed bill that packed in four openers, including Milwaukee's own Let's Play God and Soup Moat, it took a while for Screaming Females to take the stage, but when they did, they cut short the usual protracted tuning and tweaking and quickly burst into their set, almost to the point of catching the audience off guard. On record, their sound is largely propelled by singer/guitarist Marissa Paternoster's uniquely expressive voice, a big, forceful wail that has the paradoxical ability to sound commanding and emotionally fraught at the same time, which is why it was rather surprising to see how small in stature she is in person. Equally as incongruous was the way, on the few occasions she paused long enough to introduce the band or plug their new album, the Steve Albini-engineered Ugly, she spoke in a shy, girlish mumble, only to be back belting it out two seconds later.

That voice, being so crucial, could have been given a bit more priority by the sound guy, but at least her shredding guitar and the rock-solid rhythmic foundation provided by drummer Jarrett Dougherty and bassist King Mike were coming through loud and clear. Stylistically speaking, you can pick out strains of a number of sub-genres, punk, post-punk, garage, classic hard rock and '90s alternative among them, but trying to categorize and catalog Screaming Females is an exercise in pointless train-spotting—it's best to just call it damn good rock 'n' roll and enjoy yourself accordingly. It's also best to enjoy yourself while you can, because 30 or so short minutes after it abruptly began, the set came to an equally abrupt end. They say it's always best to leave 'em wanting more, and when Screaming Females started breaking down their equipment before the cries of "encore" had even died down, it was clear they had certainly accomplished that.

It was an all-around excellent performance, but again, it's just the latest triumph in a schedule of shows that is consistently surprising, one born out of lasting relationships with promoters who genuinely care about bringing interesting bands to Milwaukee and highlighting the ones that are already here. Beyond the music, though, there's just a general air of fun and respect that pervades the place, where no one, not the bands, the audience or the neighborhood, feels ripped off or taken for granted. Everyone gets paid; everyone has a good time. When you do business that way, people feel invested in your venue—not like a customer, but a part of a community, and with shows this good, it's a community worth being a part of.  


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