Show Review: Marnie Stern, Grass Widow at The New Parish, 11/4/10

by Dakin Hardwick on November 10, 2010

Marnie Stern us the kind of performer that people are desperate to describe in a single sentence. They usually toss together the name of a well known riot grrl band of some sort (Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill, etc) with a highly skilled male musician (Eddie Van Halen, Robert Fripp, Les Claypool, etc). Although I understand how quick comparisons like this make it easy to market a musician, I feel that Ms. Stern is much greater than that. Her influences are widely varied, and her skill is incomparable.

The surprisingly small crowd on a surprisingly warm November night that came out to see her last night at The New Parish got to experience an impressive show of musical heroic, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

San Francisco’s Grass Widow opened the show, and were surprised to see that the majority of the crowd was sitting down at tables. The kept encouraging folks to come up, and people slowly moved forward as they get to feel the band. What do they sound like? They are an all female three piece that share vocal duties. They are a punk band, but they had a nice balance of aggressive, bass-heavy, surf inspired rock sweetened by stunning, almost angelic, 3 part harmonies. It was both intense and beautiful, and are definitely the kind of band worth seeing again. (Note: They are also the opening band on the highly anticipated Wild Flag tour, so you’ve got a shot in the next couple weeks to see them again)

Marnie Stern & band (featuring a gentleman on bass who went by Nithin, and a drummer named Vince) came out to find the crowd a bit more warmed up. Everyone was out of their seats, at least, and it felt a lot more like a rock show, as we have grown to love them. The opened the set with prog/punk epic track from her latest, self-titled record, “Nothing Left.” It’s a great set opener, the kind of song that tells you, “Yes, we are are, and we are going to destroy you.” This lead is into the controlled anarchy of “For Ash,” and then the single “Transformer.” Three songs, all pretty much played one right after the other, and was a brilliant way to start the show.

The things started getting silly. It seemed as if she was going to introduce the band, but it turned in to a silly conversation about the lack of sex on the road. It was cute, and you could tell that the band was a really tight knit group, because all three of them ended up gently ribbing each other throughout the course of the set. It also was difficult to believe that the persons on stage were having trouble finding loving on the road, because these were three very good looking people, that came off very friendly, and looked like fun to hang out with. If it was just a shtick, that’s fun and believable. It was amusing how it kept coming up, though.

Other highlights of the set included an impressive reading of the delicate “Risky Biz,” the metal thunder of “Shea Stadium,” and the mosh pit inducing “Vibrational Match,” which was the first nod to her amazing debut record In Advance Of The Broken Arm. It’s always the song that people have known the longest to the crowd going to the next level, and this was no exception.

The performance, not mellow by any measure, began to kick up mightily. The band seemed thrilled, and a bit surprised to see such the crowd moving so much, and they definitely fed off it. Even the more abstract & experimental pieces they played became monsterous, arena style rockers because of the crowd. It felt good to see this kind of energy on a weekday night, and I believe that the crowd deserves almost as much credit as the band does for the kind of show we got. We even got an unplanned encore performance of the loudest thing ever inspired by NPR, “This American Life,” as a thank you for being such a good crowd.

Set List:

Also played: an encore of "This American Life"

And here’s a video that I found from her set at Rokslide in 2009. Different band, but it’s a great clip and I want you to watch it:


Special thanks to Noise Pop for setting us up with tickets for this show!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jficklin November 12, 2010 at 1:02 am

what about this american life? im confused


Dakin Hardwick November 12, 2010 at 11:42 pm

It’s the name of a song on her first record.


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