Live Review: Marnie Stern

Take a bow...Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, Tuesday, July 21

Despite regularly topping Best Female Fret-er polls, Marnie Stern’s face has yet to venture beyond the pages of Total Guitar and intimate venues such as tonight’s. Flailing her golden-maned head about while giggling, “I’m not looking to find a pot of gold/The picture in my head is my reward”, the New Yorker seems as thrilled to be here as tonight’s small gathering of diehard fans.

A self-taught guitarist and queen of pigeon-hole dodging, there’s an exhilarating freeness to Stern’s set. Colourful lyrics about dolphins, devils and grapefruits bleed out of her self-penned songs, the riffs of which are sardine-stacked with a giddying number of notes. With these kooky components and the sheer volume of her sound alone, Stern may have ended up as yet another guitarist floundering aimlessly in the wild abyss of experimentation. Rather than dropping off the musical map, however, Stern’s dreamy vocals and knack for a melody manage to harness these audible jungles into three-minute pop pockets. Her Deerhoof croons are the perfect counterbalance to ‘The Crippled Jazzer’’s Fugazi sound walls, while the injection of cheerleader chants and handclaps plump up ‘Prime’’s meaty guitar thumps.

As she rips through this self-penned collection of songs, Marnie barely needs to glance down at her fingers swarming like ants around her fretboard. Famed for denying her virtuoso guitar skills, however, her performance is charmingly modest. Rather than indulging in showy solos, the controlled chaos is a group effort with her bandmates. She revels in the company of bassist, Malia James, their batting eyelashes, slinking hips and sexual jokes being the only things capable of tugging onlookers’ goggling eyes away from Marnie’s fingers.

“Your boobies are so sweaty,” purrs Malia, slinking offstage. “If anyone wants more, Marnie and I will be in the kissing booth at the back,” she beckons. If their onstage onslaught is anything to go by, people, they’ll chomp your tongues clean off.

Camille Augarde