WRITTEN BY: NIKOLAS SLACKMAN
“Ohio was more lit than this,” shouted the punk poetry star Moor Mother. Her sound collage of power electronics highlighted her total disappointment in the crowd’s blank stares and still bodies. “Salt Lake City was more lit than this!” 30 minutes later, Screaming Females’ front-woman, Marissa Paternoster, demanded that the mosh pit “quit dancing like children.”
There was a constantly shifting energy at the First Unitarian Church on Nov. 6. Screaming Females is a prolific three piece that has been around for over a decade. They’ve consistently put out punk music that’s as musically intricate as it is gripping. It puts into perspective the ways that extremely loud and abrasive noises and attitudes can affect people. This show was an extraordinary demonstration of the power of punk.
The first two openers had tremendous energy and sound, but rarely challenged the audience. Ronnie Vega’s take on rap-metal was interesting, but generally accepted by those in attendance with scattered nods. Psychic Teens created a sort of driving, yet spooky pop sound that didn’t really call for anybody to dance. Both bands fit the theme of “loud music,” featuring crunched up guitars and plenty of screams. But they never felt the need to change the room’s natural dynamic, satisfied with a room full of calm, collected onlookers behind the fourth wall.
Camae Ayewa, better known as Moor Mother, refused to let this attitude stick. This Philadelphia based solo act takes on many roles, from minimalist harsh noise poetry to hip hop ambient soul. Her debut LP “Fetish Bones” came out this year, fitting in with groups like B L A C K I E and Cities Aviv in revolutionizing the rap and hip-hop genres. She pens compelling pieces of poetry backed by a mix of harsh noise, gospel samples and industrial back-beats. Moor Mother has made a point of incorporating words packed with revolutionary fervor to induce catharsis. This effect aligns with her Afrofuturistic slant, making her one of the most unique voices in music today.
Moor Mother makes music that is meant to get a crowd stirring, so she was ashamed to see her hometown audience refusing to reach her level. She innocently mentioned to the crowd how excited she was for this tour, but the audience remained silent. When the crowd took too long to applaud she sneered, commented how “everyone’s cool in Philadelphia,” and broke right into her first song. Moor Mother stood as close to the audience as she could, speaking about her disgust in our society’s chronic devaluation and slaughter of the black body. She said this with a reserved anger, and the audience responded with equal reserve. This dynamic was evident the rest of the show. It became a game, a drama in and of itself, constantly demolishing any semblance of a fourth wall in an attempt to bring us to her level.
Moor Mother sang in a low emotional growl, and the audience gave her nothing. She lip synced to her samples with passionate theatricality to no avail. While the crowd showed approval of her jarring mix of fusion jazz and power-electronics with “Creation Myth”, a song off of her most recent album, she flipped us off during the next song since all the audience offered were blank stares.
Moor Mother wanted violence, claiming, “I might just drop kick someone tonight. I’m feeling emotional and this is the end of the tour so I don’t really care.” A mosh pit of unbridled energy finally broke out when she came into the crowd, surrounded by dancing dudes, and played her most straightforwardly barbaric song “Deadbeat Protest.” She slumped over the stage exhausted as the people moshed. The pit was pure release, a thirty second moment of the sort of riotous catharsis she had worked to create.
Once the New Brunswick, N.J. native Screaming Females took the stage, it was clear that the audience was unprepared for the music to get louder. While the band is comparable to the sort of bombastic Jersey sound that bands like Titus Andronicus and Cymbals Eat Guitars bring to the stage, they swap out all the indie showboating with metal riffs that beef up their noisy, grating sound to blissful extremes.
This show was no different, shining through during the power-pop jam “It All Means Nothing,” the indie-pop oriented “Wishing Well” and the masterful freak out finale that is “Boyfriend.” Screaming Females offered up complex musical compositions and a bodacious sound. Their ear-busting roaring and shredding provided an intensity unmatched by anyone who has ever come from a basement scene.
That being said, Screaming Females was also unwilling to allow the sort of unbridled mosh pit that broke out during Moor Mother’s set to continue throughout theirs. It was apparent during their second song, “Ripe,” that the pit had become a violent affair. At this point, the mosh consisted of the tallest and strongest shoving into small people aimlessly with full force. This type of moshing has been shunned more and more by punks who are trying to make their shows safe. Paternoster had to tell the crowd twice not to attack each other, and that there should be “no elbowing each other and punching people in the face.” The crowd responded by standing like statues. Paternoster then reminded us that this isn’t church, and that we were allowed to have fun. “Just don’t brutalize each others bodies,” she reasoned. The crowd warmed back up and began a safe and cautious mosh pit.
Every band was united by a total devotion to completely blasting the audience with noise, constantly challenging it to change its attitude. This night represented punk in its purest essence, unafraid to upset and always putting it’s angriest foot forward. The audience was never safe from the constant barrage of sound because the bands always knew that change was necessary to keep the show compelling.