Fingertappin’ at the Necktie (Again): Marnie Stern & Drums Like Machine Guns

Drums Like Machine Guns
Marnie Stern
Kung-Fu Necktie
Philadelphia, PA
10.25.10

After a straight week performing at CMJ, Marnie Stern played to a pretty packed house at the Kung-Fu Necktie Monday night, her ever pleasant and smiling self behind the microphone as she informed us she loves playing Philly.

We cheered and all was good.

Earlier that evening, the last minute acquisition of Drums Like Machine Guns filled the void before Stern’s set and pushed off the start time about an hour. People were filing in, though the Necktie was never uncomfortably packed. Personal space was still available, even at the foot of the stage. Stern’s name, though, has evidently acquired more stock, the quantity of bodies noticeably at a higher count compared to her appearance last year.


Drums Like A Machine Gun is a noise band, their artillery a veritable yard sale of sound equipment that resided on tables and generated motionless fields of static. Best I can tell, they played one full twenty-minute opus, the cacophony at one point mutating into a rhythmic mass of undulating science fiction. They got their applause and then broke down their collective Radio-Shack. It was off-putting that the opener had such a short set, but it was an hour or so after show time. It’s possible that that impacted their time, which would be a shame considering how much equipment they require to do their thing.

Stern made her way through the crowd, picked up her guitar and proceeded to be overtaken by her rhythm section for the first song, which was “Nothing Left” from her new album, Marnie Stern.

Thankfully, she was aware something was wrong with the sound, and asked us, (her people), if adjustments were necessary. She was met with a crowd of fingers pointing upward, including mine. It took another song before the mix got better, though Stern was at a constant duel with the drum kit for the duration of her set.

Photo by David Torch
Still, once Stern was more audible, she was able to get into the show and seemed to struggle less. It really is a pleasure to watch her play a guitar: her movements so delicate and quick, the sounds raw and unpolished. And she sings the entire time, somehow able to adhere to her vocal idiosyncrasies while staying true to the math she employs on her albums. Keeping time on this music is a chore for the casual listener, so she gets props for being so ambitious and having the chops to pull it off.

“The Crippled Jazzer” made a rock worthy appearance, as did “Vibrational Match” from In Advance of the Broken Arm. She also engaged the crowd into clapping for “Prime.” Otherwise, most of her set was devoted to the new album, renditions of “Risky Biz,” (loved this one, especially), “For Ash,” “Transparency Is The New Mystery” and “Her Confidence” offering a new and stripped-for-trio perspective on the music. Very beautiful was the haunting and lovely “The Things You Notice,” which kept the crowd quiet and attentive.

Staying consistent with her last visit, Stern’s set was relatively short and the encore was eschewed in favor of signing some merch, taking pictures and shaking a few hands. I got to converse with her briefly while buying the new album and heard a little bit about her stint at CMJ. And then I thanked her for the show.

Forgot to get the album signed, though. Fucking idiot.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead
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