Screaming Females - Garden Party - Night 2 (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Screaming Females

Garden Party - Night 2 (2023)

live show

At one point in the night, Someone puked on the ground and I’m pretty sure I stepped in it… repeatedly. At another, three big security guards wrestled an ANGRY looking dude out the door. Before that, the ENTIRE CROWD was headbanging in unison. People jumped up and down so much the floor popped back like the White Eagle Hall was a bouncy house. There was non-stop crowd surfing and fair amount of moshing.

I said to myself, “Blimey! I’ve been hit in the head and have been magically transported to 1997 and I’m at a Slayer show!” but then I looked around. Instead of seeing a bunch of roided-out rednecks with sketchy tattoos I saw a bunch of nice people having a grand ol’ time and realized I was actually at night two of Screaming Females annual garden party in Jersey City.

And boy, did the Screamales come to ROCK. I’ve seen them a bunch of times and they are always great, but let me tell you, this time they were absolutely phenomenal. The band is sort of like Hall and Oates where you say to yourself, “oh yeah, they’ve got like 5 huge hits,” and then you play their CD and relazie, no, they have like 16 huge hits… except SFs are more like KRS-One where it’s actually more like 40 MASSIVE HITS. And the Screamles were hitting last Saturday night.

Almost every song played was a wall-to-wall banger- hence the crowd surfing and moshing. They opened with the brand new “Brass Bell.” Screaming Females have been focusing their music down to its core essentials with either newer albums, and the sheer Sabbathy power of “Bras Bell” announced the newest era of the band. The winding riffs literally rumbled the hall while the bass reverberated through the ground and the drums bounced across people’s heads and shoulders. Just like Tony Iommi knows that simple but effective is the way to move masses, the Screamales now know this as well and it made their live show feel like they were playing to a massive arena… with the close connectivity of a club show.

And then, when they did get fancy with the instrumental work, such as on “Doom 84,” all the lightening quick work really stood out. It was also a real treat to hear how some songs got a change up- “Deeply” was reworked into a minimalist loop that really gave the song a unique character amidst the all-out rockage. I was particularly pleased to see that the setlist was composed almost of all newer songs and that every song was a total blaster- that is, this band really, really, really is getting better and better! (I was also thrilled to hear a killer rendition of “Wishing Well.”)

Almost half of the songs from the new Desire Pathway got a test drive, including the aforementioned “Brass Bell.” “Desert Train” was also especially effective with its low locomotive rumble and singy-songy refrain, which interestingly, is placed on top of non-singsongy music.

I also must point out that I often say that bassist King Mike is “laid back on stage” or “cooly aloof.” I have to apologize about. I must have been high when I wrote those things in the past even though I have never done drugs because, at the show, Mike was not only smashing out huge bass lines, but he was stomping and jumping around the stage like Chuck Dukowski. The dude is a frikkin bruiser! My bad!

The band closed out with a two song encore including their new found set smasher, “Glass house” from the previous LP. It was loud, shook the crowd, and said exactly what it needed to say and nothing more.

A lot of publications have been saying nice things about the screaming Females and the general angle is, “you don’t need to be a rock star… you can be the Screaming Females, and that’s even better because they are STILL doing their thing, even better than ever.” That’s all very true- except, well, YOU CAN’T be the Screaming Females because you probably suck. Also, at this point, with their honed, but energetic riffage, with their clear excitement at making music still, with their peculiarities (Marissa’s Shining affectation; Mike’s kung-fu kicking; Jarrett’s wooden Dhalsim-inspired necklace), I kind of thing that, even if Screaming Females aren’t rock stars… they actually ARE rock stars.

Wow. What a band!

Before Screaming Females, Laura Stevenson and her band took the alternate approach. Whereas SF’s busted up the room with power and volume, Stevenson played a set of delicate, sensitive music. It really was interesting to see that Stevenson was able to make the White Eagle Hall feel like a living room through her quiet, but nuanced delivery. Stevenson, much in the vein of Carly Simon and Carole King, writes personal lyrics and often wraps them up in metaphors that sometime obscure and sometime illuminate the topic at hand. Even though the set was relaxed, it was played with a great deal of confidence which displayed why Stevenson has such an ardent fanbase.

On a related note, I have an opinion on something and I do want your opinion- maybe I am wrong? At one point, someone yelled to Laura, “How’s your kid?” referring to her baby or toddler… I’m not sure which. I thought that was creepy. It was almost as if to say, “I trawl through your Instagram and I’m going to mention something from your personal life to try to develop a connection!” (Tegan and Sara and the Vivian Girls seemed to have this problem, too). Man, don’t ask about people’s kids in front of a bunch of strangers! That’s weird! Though, maybe in the age of social media, that’s all well and fine? Maybe I’m just an old-skool paisan and am out of touch? You let me know.

Before LS, neo-two tone champs Catbite came to battle. And they DID battle. It was probably the best show I’ve ever seen from the band. They are in that perfect zone where they have released two KILLER albums, have been growing in popularity each month, and are really feeling their oats.

The band played the majority of their second album and a good amount of the first, As they snapped from tune to tune, you could feel that this is a band that has totally mastered their craft and are feeding off the positive energy thrown out by the crowd. When they did “Scratch me up,” singer Brit Luna had the entire audience do a hand scratching motion that was hilarious as it was enthusiastic. The audience was into this band.

One reason for their rapidly growing appeal is that this is a band that has a great sense of melody and songcraft, but that keep the edge in their music. Everyone calls catbite a ska band, including the band themselves, but to me, the tastefulness of the songs, how well they are presented, and the the sometimes zagged out lyrics like “Scratch me up” or “Asinine aesthetic,” make them the successor to classic two-tone. When the guitar of Tim Hildebrand hits the crowd, it’s usually nice, but sometimes, its nasty, like on the slice of “Creepin.” The drums of Chris Pires rumble with a near hardcore attack. The bass of Ben Parry is energetic but still has tinge of the Jamaican swing. Luna can switch from sultry to crazy on the drop of a dime and that’s why this band is so multi-faceted and yet so classic. The crowd was blown away, as they should be.

The show opened with new hardcore darlings Gel and the props are well deserved. The band mixed the west coast thrashy approach with some NYHC beat down style all while shredding their vocals. But, maybe unlike the majority of modern hardcore, the band still did keep a little bit of “punk” in their “hardcore punk” and that made all the difference. This band smashes, but they rock just a little, too. Perfect opening set.

Since the passing of Jack Terricloth, I have been lamenting the end of the amazing Hallowmas shows. It’s not fair to other events to compare them to the greatest annual event ever. But, since the end of Hallowmas, there has been a hole in my heart. It’s still there, but the annual Garden Party is now in my heart as well. I’ll be there next year. Will you? You should go.