12/5/09 @ The Summit, Columbus OH
This is my Suitcase / Tin Armor / The Screaming Females
Some DIY punk enthusiasts will have something to say about New Brunswick, NJ’s Screaming Females, and, I do too. They first stormed through Columbus in The Screamer House era of my life, from late 04’-06’; the first house I lived in that wasn’t my parents; a glorious wreck of life living. I think they played our crammed living room late in the first year of the house’s existence. Since that time, they have been road dogs, through Ohio a handful of times, touring non-stop. They became favorites of our insular scene, spanning genre interest and always giving a stunning live performance. Their sound destroys the confounds of punk, swarming audiences with a collage of rock based influences.
Marissa’s guitar playing has to be witnessed. It’s heavy and steeped in grunge at one moment, then it’s fusion at another. She can wail and shred. An arpeggio leads into a solo that would make Eddie Van Halen blush. Her voice is animal like. It trembles low and monotone before a sudden howl and shriek. Then it’s smooth and carrying a memorable line.
I’ve always been a fan of Mike’s bass playing; He knows how to do just enough to give the music a backbone but also give it a pulse. Nothing too complex. What you want to hear and nothing extra. Not just background though. It is necessary to the complete sound. It is it’s own part. It’s a jam loop of something kind of funky but still rocking like CCR. Jarrett’s drumming is on board with the bass. Sensitive to dynamic and pace; rhythmic and loud when necessary.
On to the real talk. After their open armed welcome into the underground and what I would call some indie success, they were offered a spot touring with Jack White’s side-band The Dead Weather. Next time they came to Columbus, they played Lifestyle’s Community Pavilion, brought to you by Promowest Productions. Promowest is not Clear Channel (Media Monopoly scumbags) which I can appreciate greatly, but it still has a strong arm on what comes through our city. Promowest is self described as “the largest full-service, independent entertainment company in the Midwest.” They have varied corporate sponsorship like Pepsi and Bud Lite, etc., presenting the shows or having “signage” in the venue. “Lifestyle Communities” Pavillion is their outdoor venue. They control four venues total. “Lifestyle Communities” might sound progressive and cool but don’t be fooled. It is a collection of Condos downtown, part of the urban yuppie elite movement to live downtown and gentrify the city.
So the Screaming Females took a step up. They decided to sacrifice some control of their art and music and the medium in which it is shared. A sacrifice on the terms it is shared and on the context in which it is shared. High ticket prices. Corporate sponsorship. Things I dislike. But there is a demographic that likes it. Why shouldn’t a greater percentage of the public have a great band like the Screaming Females? A band who makes their own art? A band who tours in a van still? A band that actually says something in their music with a strong female and queer identity fronting the band.
To their credit, they are incredibly supportive of many independent bands and the local/national/international DIY scene. Jarrett ran a zine for a bit (Hub City) all about New Brunswick’s burgeoning punk house scene in the mid to late oughts. He also lives at a house that currently hosts many touring acts and takes care of the bands that come through. Delay has been lucky to play there and privileged to be on Jarrett’s top 10 albums of 2009 (thanks!). Letters to The Moon was also given a show and support by the full band just a couple years ago on our first ever tour. It’s easy to be a critic, even though I’ve had a Pepsi and a Bud Lite. When it comes to our livelihood, we get very serious. We get defensive and possessive because we sense a great importance in what we love, in this case, art and music. We assign it importance beyond our other daily actions. I need to consume it critically to make sense of my life and identity.
The Screaming Females were never a band to give sermons on DIY ethics. I don’t think they ever deceived an audience to believe that they might not want their band to grow and take on a bigger stage, maybe make some money. I am not totally against that. I am not totally for that. I believe that when a band begins to have success in the form of attention and high attendance at shows that they carry the power to make the rules. Are you a Fugazi or a Nirvana? Should the artist starve or not have to work at anything else?
What a band decides matters. It can be a giving in, or, a precedent. This time through town, they played at a mid sized venue for $7. At a house/alt-venue show they would have drawn just as many people, but an entirely different group of the same amount. They might not have got as many rock dudes head banging with rock horns up in the front, but it still would have been rad. I won’t make a sweeping decision on The Screaming Females. As people, they are wonderful and I am a people person. As a band, they are amazing and I feel lucky to have seen them so many times for $5. They started a tour with Arctic Monkey’s the next day.