As a recently engaged man, I made a promise to myself that I would not fall in love with Marnie Stern when I went to see her perform live. That promise fell apart after the first two songs. I'm a complete sucker for any woman who can positively shred an electric guitar to pieces, and ten minutes of Miss Stern made me completely forget about my lifelong crush on Nancy Wilson. Though the real moment when she charmed the living balls off of me came after she blazed through the new track "Immortals," and then made a joke about using her drummer's t-shirt to wipe off her vagina sweat. Seriously, raging licks and vag jokes are the direct passage to my heart.
But OK, all throbbing crushes aside, this was one of the greatest power-trio sets I have ever been fortunate enough to witness firsthand. Stern may sound like a female Eddie Van Halen playing in King Crimson, but she has this soft touch to her fret-tapping that gives it a unique feel all her own. She nailed every mind-melting passage song after song, although she still hasn't mastered being able to sing directly into the microphone while she's mid turbo-lick. That breath of humanity from her only brings her playing into this mesmerizingly tangible realm though. It's like you can picture her sitting on a couch watching Seinfeld reruns, and then she stands up to say "Excuse me while I go be one of the greatest guitarists of all time." And yet, the mid-song jokes point to an overwhelming modesty that makes it clear she'd be the first to deny the mountain of accolades thrown upon her. But there's no doubt they are all well deserved. She doesn't shred amazingly for a chick, she just fuckin' shreds amazingly. Nearly equally as impressive are the two sets of testicles in her band: Nithin Kalvakota on bass and Joe Wong on drums. Kalvakota has been backing Stern for several years now, and is thus not only in complete lock with her musically but he also is well adjusted to her constant running vagina jokes. Wong seems like he's still slightly embarrassed by her constant urges for him to play shirtless, but the exuberant Friday night crowd eventually inspired him to remove both shirt and pants, and led to a hilarious moment with a blushing Stern. And oh yeah, Wong is an absolute monster on the kit. His power rolls were astonishingly tight, and the ferocity of his strikes only amplified the absolute fury of Stern's attack.
The encore of "For Ash" will certainly be one of my 2013 musical highlights, and it got me so charged up that I couldn't resist giving a few jabs to the shoulder of the guy standing next to me. Amidst his head-banging and the thrashing of his air guitar he seemed to be well accepting of my physical outburst. Now of the thousands of bands I've seen over the years, I can only remember a handful of times when a second encore was truthfully demanded. I'm talking venue-lights up, house-music on, and such an earnest plea from the crowd for one more song that the band has to take the stage again. This was one of those moments, and the band's reply of "Transparency is the New Mystery" was downright beautiful. The opening cry of "In order to see it you've got to believe it" gave me shivers, and the ever-growing arc of the rest of the tune sent me out into the night utterly spell-bound. Have you ever been so entranced that you completely forget you have a drink in your hand? Well the beer I bought during the first song of the set was still half-full and piss-warm by the time this gig ended.