Marnie Stern Doesn’t Do It by the Numbers

September 30th, 2011

Marnie Stern – Music Hall of Williamsburg – September 29, 2011

Everything about Marnie Stern is unexpected. From the tiny blonde frame that walks out onstage with otherworldly technical metal-guitar prowess delivering a childlike falsetto vocal, to being signed to Kill Rock Stars on the strength of an unsolicited demo tape, hers is one of those inspiring stories of hard work and talent you still want to believe can happen. Last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, Stern completely let loose with mind-blowing performances of songs off her latest self-titled album.

From her blend of classic power metal and intricate arpeggio scales in “The Things You Notice” to the disparate internal rhythms of “Transparency Is the New Mystery,” she’s continuing to forge a riot grrrl-inspired experimental-noise rock sound that borrows just as much from Deerhoof as it does from Lightning Bolt. You also have to hand it to the very talented Vince Rogers for ably filling Zach Hill’s shoes from the recorded albums. His own drumming method is equally abnormal and precise, the perfect match to Stern’s dense complexity. Her natural ability on guitar, though, never feels showy and yet it somehow manages to be overshadowed by her powerful disarming voice on “Female Guitar Players Are the New Black.” For all the slight of hand, it’s the epic vocal that’s the core of the track.

The methodical recordings are faithfully executed and have to be seen to be believed. Given Stern’s unmatched raw ability, she’s grounded somehow, enjoying the performance, bouncing around the stage, joking with the audience about not loading the van or driving and being exhausted by her puppy. And, in turn, audiences are amazed by her freakishly skilled talent and because Stern is an impressive not-by-the-numbers songwriter in the same unjaded package. —Jason Dean