Sandwiched between endearingly scuzzy lo-fi punk-pop sets by the Rattlesnakes — who began the night on the floor — and Brooklyn's Japanther — a duo who, with guest Eric Lyle, sang into yellow Verizon payphones (repurposed as mics) and pounded out endearingly earnest activists sentiments and good-naturedly moshable anthems — were the Screaming Females, a strangely modern punk trio from New Jersey.
The band have played Portland regularly as their blog-fueled star has risen; the buzz behind them is of a time-honored punk tradition (their albums are fine, but they are essential live viewing), but their punk itself is not. Sure, they've got a schlubby bassist and a nerdy drummer playing predictable backup, but their frontwoman, five-foot-two Marissa Paternoster, has a new model in mind.
Her guitar playing, weirdly crisp in front of her bandmates, is less three-chord-anthem than everything-all-the-time virtuosity, and her riffs offer a kind of po-mo concept of punk, referencing all kinds of bands whose anthems ruled our (and their) childhoods: AC/DC, Green Day, Pavement, Van Halen. Her audience's shared nostalgia makes these diverse influences seem not only coherent, but weirdly thrilling. Paternoster, on stage, is a star, if a diminutive one: deep-voiced, hair always covering her eyes, clad in Wednesday Addams shirt and cut-off army pants. Men in front of me literally fell to their knees in adulation, between trading open-mouthed gapes for a good 40 minutes. The band's lone female rarely screamed, but when she did, the crowd was a horde of goofy, happy smiles.
With her sly, showy style come a few obligatory bum notes — the endless false endings of one song, licks that disagree with the rhythm section — but the band live up to their hype: I will never listen to their studio work, but I'll probably always be in their crowds. Others might be too busy though: after the set, one guy in earshot shouted to his friends, "Let's start a metal band right now."