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For God’s sake, can anyone write an article about Marnie Stern without mentioning that, ooooh, she’s a woman who shreds on guitar? It might be uncommon, but come on, it’s not like she’s a freakin’ alien or something.
Of course, while Stern herself has expressed some exasperation that her mere gender grabs all the headlines, she’s probably not doing herself any favors on that front by accepting money for kisses. While this kissing booth thing apparently hasn’t been so successful on the fundraising side of things—and in fact there was no sign of it at last night’s DC9 show—it’s certainly been a resounding success as a PR stunt. Since the kissing booth announcement, Stern has been written up on every indie-rock website imaginable, not to mention enough D.C. outlets to ensure that DC9 was packed to the gills despite it being the night before Thanksgiving.
But all this nonsense aside, last night Stern showed that her knotty, complex music is just as worthy of attention as anything else about her. I’ve been a big fan of her latest album, This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That, for some time, and it was no surprise that the maximalist, hyper-dense compositions from that album came across incredibly powerfully in the live setting. It helps to have a drummer as skillful and physical as Jim Sykes (filling in for Zach Hill, who plays on the album), but Stern was naturally the center of attention, and her talents had much of the crowd enthralled for the duration of her brief set.
An interesting crowd it was, too – because of the eclectic lineup of opening bands (including DC dance rockers Exactly, about whom I heard someone say after their set, “they’ve definitely gotten better… I wouldn’t say they’re good, but they’re better!”), half the crowd seemed to be really into Stern’s music and the other half seemed to be looking for a dance party. There was a guy headbanging away and singing along to all of Stern’s serpentine vocal lines, and right next to him there was a group of folks breaking it down as if they were still listening to Exactly instead of a math-rock band. Surreal.