Shredding, tapping and almost James Brown-scale levels of sweat were on the roster at The Garage in Highbury last night as Marnie Stern blasted through a frenetic set of her signature combination of controlled math rock chaos and pop indie. Even after four albums on US indie’s flagship label Kill Rock Stars, Marnie Stern’s career feels like it’s just heating up. Her relentless ability for angular guitar pyrotechnics have given Stern numerous appearances on “Top Female Guitarists” lists, while her high energy and hook-filled tunes give her well earned cult status. Previous collaborators include drummers Zach Hill (Hella, Death Grips) and Kid Millions (Oneida, Man Forever), both of whom possess the sort of impossibly manic ability that makes Keith Moon look like Keith Chegwin, while simultaneously bearing close similarity to Stern’s unique instrumental style: brash and relentless.
Her latest album, The Chronicles of Marnia has been lauded across the board, but has also been seen as a clear progression away from the “more is more” recording style of her first three albums: vocals and melody are now pushed to the forefront, previously overcrowded with guitar notes and snare blasts. While this is somewhat true in the studio, Stern’s live show remains far from controlled. The tunes have to battle it out for ear space, and the show is all the better for it.
Backed up by trusty bassist Nithin Kalvakota, and Joe Wong (also of Parts & Labor), Stern ploughed through 45 minutes of shredding, yelling and dancing, infectiously carefree and upbeat. The dizzying highs of fan favourites like Year of the Glad were interspersed with more challenging tunes from Stern’s repertoire, but the essence of the whole thing was ballsy and punky from start to finish. The between-song banter was disarmingly charming too, with Stern and Kalvakota bantering like the geekiest teens in the class, all the more fitting in the sweaty, hipster-laden shadows of the Garage. After a couple of jokes though, Stern wouldn’t even count to three before careening back into a flurry of tapped notes. You’d expect her child-like extroversion to be in opposition with being a badass shredder, but it’s quite the opposite. All the pieces make something uniquely appealing. Positive, unpretentious and shamelessly virtuosic – Marnie Stern is awesome.