With Killmama and Kazoots
Presented by Brooklyn Brewery's Mash 2014
Saturday, November 1, 2014
Sure, it was a downright brisk November night, and many of us were undoubtedly still feeling the burn from spooking up the city on Halloween.
But that wasn't going to stop the denizens of Wynwood and rock enthusiasts of all stripes from coming out to see the esteemed Marnie Stern grace the stage at local hangout Gramps.
Marnie's been mythologized in the press as "the lady who shreds," and many in attendance were expecting pyrotechnics to pour out of her high-strapped Jazzmaster. But Marnie wouldn't go on until "quite late," as she said.
In fact, the whole show did not even get going until a few hours after the posted start time. We were running on the Miami clock, no doubt, but there was no lack of happenings to keep us entertained.
Starting off the night was the tail-end of the Fading Formats swap meet, which encouraged folks to "Beg! Borrow! Steal! Trade!" from tables loaded with antique drum machines, recycled records, original Nintendos, and sordid memorabilia.
We watched a guy play "Donkey Kong" on an old box TV and wandered around fingering through stacks of albums while the first band set up in the back room.
Then the first few cymbal crashes alerted us that the show was about to begin, and we eagerly filed in to watch Fort Lauderdale heavy-blues duo Killmama pound their instruments into oblivion.
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Killmama's got a self-described "Stripes-y" sound. But that doesn't account for the way Sophie Sputnik ferociously attacks her drum kit. (In fact, Meg White could take some notes.) Or the lurching, cat-like way Rob Kingsley treads around the stage while playing guitar.
The duo's sound is pure adrenaline, mined from the familiar blues barrel of riffs, but injected with enough passion and soulful emoting to entirely enliven the Southern-fried shredding.
For a short intermission, we braced ourselves and went back out into the chilly night. But soon enough, the jaunty strumming of Inez Barlatier let us know it was time for Kazoots's set.
The Miami outfit's poppy blend of Afro-fusion hooks drew us out of the cold and into the tropical climes that inhabit their sound. Bartalier's distinctive voice and propulsive playing is countered by guitarist Jayan Bertrand's more open-ended style, his nuanced riffs and knotty solos playing leapfrog with the solid rhythms laid down by drummer Gabe Norwood.
The tunes are a lilting, sun-soaked affair, and the band seems to have a lot of genuine fun just getting to jam together. Then the shared intimacy of Kazoots' set turned into bubbling excitement when we realized that the explosive histrionics of Marnie Stern herself were next.
Marnie and the band humbly set up their pedals and fashioned the backline to their liking, as Oneida's Kid Millions rolled out waves of snare fills, making sure everything was taut and ready.
A brief introduction, a loud cheer, and they launched into "Immortals" from Marnie's latest offering, The Chronicles of Marnia. "Immortals don't die!" Marnie wailed over the blaring din of her finger-tapped guitar while bassist Nithin Kalvakota called back with pitch-perfect oohs.
Between songs, Marnie lamented the weather, as Miami was proving not to be the warm reprieve needed after playing Halloween night in Chicago. She also mentioned that her mom was in attendance at Gramps, who she then apologized to "for being so loud."
Stern and the gang alternated between tightly wound coils of "Eruption"-esque lead guitar, often accompanied by some serious Marnie concentration face, and heavier sections where they all seem content to mash a low-end riff until it collapses.
Interspersed were the frontwoman's pep-squad hooks, where she repeats lines like "all I've got is time" or "nothing is easy" until they transform from one-offs into complex anthems that convey both her resolve and trepidation.
Stern's project is one of extremes: vulnerable poetics laid over intense guitar bravado, ecstatic virtuosity paired with existential interrogation. You don't need to pore over the philosophical lyrics to groove to the polyrhythmic chaos, but it's there if you want it. In short, she's always had something deeper to say than a lot of her tech-minded peers.
Finally, though, after the fiery crescendo of "The Crippled Jazzer," the band bid us adieu, as Marnie denied requests for an encore in favor of "just hanging out with my mom, you know?"
Hopefully, a roomful of blown minds and ringing ears is enough to make a mother proud.
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