Kung Fu Necktie
A round of U-turns went by before I finally parked my car on some unnamed side street facing the “L” bridge that hung over Front Street. I was about two blocks away from the Kung Fu Necktie, a laughably named corner bar wherein the show would go on. Marnie Stern was the draw, though when I arrived around 7:15, there were maybe five people inside and two or three of them were working. Some Stern-chandise was being spread out in an alcove next to the bar, stacks of CDs and vinyl, t-shirts with pink lettering that read “Win ‘Marnie’ Win.” Even shoulder bags.
My brother showed up not long after I began quietly sipping lager and absorbing my surroundings, paper flyers and rows of cult/martial arts flicks behind the bar capturing most of my attention. Soundcheck followed a little later, Marnie Stern onstage, guitar strapped to her frame, announcing American cities into the microphone for the sound tech in her signature pitch. Once that was over, pre-show chill time was in full swing.
By about 8:30, people were filing in at a decent clip, taking up any available floor space before the opener, Satanized, launched into their set. Realizing our seats were fair game once we left them, the both of us decided to appreciate the opener at a listening capacity as that band’s visibility was obscured by ponytails, hoods and hipster headgear.
Philly natives Satanized, best as I could tell, was a feedback-heavy Melvins variation, doom-laden and droned out at times. Their intensity though was commanding and it was cool to see an opener play to a packed house. It’s too often, especially with smaller shows, that the warm-up gets screwed out of a crowd, unfortunate casualties of a “holier-than-thou” demographic interested only in the headliner. Give it up for Philly Metal.
Once Satanized had finished their set, I was willing to abandon my station given that we were likely going to vacate the premises once Stern’s set had come to a close. Plus, I was given a rare gift: a crowd of average height and not the stilt-legged hipster league I’m typically trying to stare around at Johnny Brenda’s. My brother and I were acknowledgeable enough that people let us tunnel through the crowd. Unusual.
We made it up front. The Marnie Stern trio opened up with a couple songs from her latest album, the lengthy titled 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, battering the crowd with “Transformer,” and then leading us into headknocking rock power with a very loud rendition of “The Crippled Jazzer.”
On stage, Stern is fascinating to watch. The complicated nature of what she does, these progressive, finger-tapped string duels with often off-time jazz-based drum rhythms, is maniacal enough without having to remember to sing, which she does constantly. It’s rare that something vocal ISN’T happening in one of her songs. So, at times, she would be head down, focused on her fretwork and almost hugging her microphone, concentrating on harmony and dexterity. And, because something like this isn’t so easy to do live, (least of all as a trio), her music almost takes on a different persona; more of a raw-edge rock-swagger than the layered sheets of sonically striking progressive discord that the records seem to reflect. To an extent, the live version is almost better, the dirt and grit on full display, the piercing six-string more glorious.
Mistakes happened but no one cared. At one point, Stern struggled to get through the song “Patterns Of A Diamond Ceiling,” noticeably frustrated but humored enough to laugh about it. A performance of “Grapefruit” more or less knocked that out of our minds.
They blasted through their set and didn’t hang for an encore. Stragglers made their way back to the bar or the merch table. My brother is now the proud owner of a pink-lettered “Win ‘Marnie’ Win” t-shirt. I picked up This Is It… on vinyl.
Having corresponded at points with Marnie Stern, (and promoted the fuck out of her last two albums), I figured I’d find an opportunity to introduce myself. While in the midst of packing up her gear, she took two seconds to shake my hand. Not wanting to take up too much of her time, I just thanked her for the show and told her to be on the look out for a write-up.
It was around 11:30 when we left the Necktie and it was a thankful good night’s rest about an hour later.
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