Published Mar 15, 2018It's refreshing to see bands that have been working away at their craft for over a decade finally reach a certain level of well-deserved success. Since 2006, Screaming Females have been hammering out consistent punk output, focussing on big, snarling guitar sounds and Marissa Paternoster's fierce, powerful vocals that are unlike any other in the business today. With their seventh album, All At Once, Screaming Females continue their growth, following their most accessible record, 2015's Rose Mountain, and playing a soldout show at Hard Luck Bar in Toronto Wednesday night.
Despite releasing their debut album back in 2010, Philadelphia-based Radiator Hospital made their first appearance in Toronto, playing lightning-fast, youthful rock with a pop-punk sheen. Starting out with "Leather and Lace" from their breakthrough album Torch Song, bandleader Sam Cook-Parrott's nervous energy was immediately directed towards his scrappy guitar tones and yelping vocals. Guitarist Cynthia Schemmer sang Katie Crutchfield's (of Waxahatchee) part on the one-minute long "Blue Gown" before the four-piece transitioned from this breakneck speed to the dishevelled, heartfelt "Dance Number," from last year's Play the Songs You Like.
Cook-Parrott took a constant wide stance and teetered around, swaying his guitar to the bouncy rhythms of Radiator Hospital's frayed songs. To finish their 30-minute set, Cook-Parrott's cracked voice called to the room, "Dreaming of the last time that you said you wanted to dance," to start off "Our Song," a brazen, afflicted breakup song.
Screaming Females' Paternoster opened the set with the crunchy chords of "Empty Head" from Rose Mountain, a song that has all the usual elements of a Screaming Females song — punchy drums from Jarrett Dougherty, plump and crusty bass lines from Mike Abbate, and a huge, blunt chorus featuring Paternoster's colossal vibrato and her thrilling guitar shredding. After a fan brought the trio each a shot, Paternoster said in a small voice, "That was nice, I hope the rest of the show isn't bad now."
Paternoster couldn't have been more modest. With her moppy hair flung over her face, Paternoster blazed through thunderous riffs with barrelling dexterity throughout the hour-long set. An extended, prog-rock intro to Rose Mountain's title track truly showcased Paternoster's rousing guitar chops with carefully calculated tension. Her squalling guitar sprawled and buzzed in "Fall Asleep," from 2010's Castle Talk, recalling Screaming Females DIY-punk rock roots.
Yet, Paternoster's guitar prowess may not even be the most important aspect of the band. Her enormous voice — which yowls, wails, and sneers with compelling range and definition — is an essential part of every Screaming Females song. On "Black Moon," Paternoster bellowed like a giant at the start of a line, but by the next syllable she projected in a shrill but robust quiver. At times, like during her blood-curdling screams on "Doom 84," from 2012's Ugly, Paternoster leaned in and put the entire microphone in her mouth. Her peculiar way of dynamically changing her voice to go with along with her blistering riffage is a defining feature for Screaming Females and it was only more apparent seeing the band live.
The trio performs with great fluidity and chemistry that has obviously been developed after touring extensively throughout their existence. On All At Once's "Glass House," the band practiced brooding restraint led by King Mike's palpitating bass, before imploding into a thick, vigorous climax let by Paternoster. For the encore, Screaming Females played the ferocious power-pop of "It All Means Nothing," in a dominantly assertive way that almost seemed effortless and intuitive for the veteran group.