February is the month for groundhogs and lovers—and of course for the annual Don Giovanni Records showcase. The New Jersey label put on this show with upped volume and plenty of vigor this Saturday night at the Music Hall Of Williamsburg.
Byrds Of Paradise was first in the line-up, kicking off the show and delivering its custom coarse punk blend to the already thick crowd. Lemuria took the stage next to perform a 13 song set. The trio put out a simple no gimmicks performance—much like its sweet punchy sound, the music stood alone for what it is. Short songs followed by even scantier onstage commentary, however did not make for an unengaged audience. Without warning, lead vocalist Sheena Ozzella stopped singing during sugary number “Home,” allowing an animated crowd to complete the verse for her.
Shellshag, minimalist indie/punk rock duo consisting of longtime couple Shell and Jen Shag, had marked its territory long before playing a first song. A standing three-piece drum kit along with a crossed double-sided mic contraption was set up and positioned front and center; a tell tale sign that this performance was going to take a different route than the understated set of Lemuria. Even soundcheck took on the guise of an act with the two DIY veterans belting out a series of whoa-ohs face-to-face, exploding seamlessly into performance mode. Their first number was a Japanthers cover, with whom Shellshag had just completed a “long ass” European tour. Despite having made it back to their native Brooklyn from London just hours earlier, Shellshag’s energy and pure elation shone through every gritty number. The set was closed out with the chant “Fuck society, fuck sobriety”, which served as an anthem to some ridiculous stage antics. Shell played his guitar while throwing it around Shag, fully switching instruments in a matter of seconds in order to build a tower out of the drums and collapse to the floor in an embrace.
Laura Stevenson And The Cans proceeded after Shellshag, switching up the pace a full 180 degrees. Softer lighting and a slew of varied instrumentals, including xylophone, accordion and trumpet, complemented Stevenson’s soft ethereally pretty voice. The key was in the dynamics; Stevenson had the room in near silence at times and filled with full, intricately layered sound at others. Unfortunately during some of the more silent moments, it became clear that the audience wasn’t fully wound down from the previous acts, some voices from the crowd were almost as prominent as hers. She gracefully persevered, not a single note flubbed.
As New Brunswick New Jersey’s Screaming Females mounted the stage, it was clear that once again Don Giovanni had switched wavelengths on us entirely. The Screaming Females started absolutely killing it, immediately, and without warning or introduction. Lead vocalist/guitarist Marissa Paternoster, no taller than 5’2” and clad in a simple collared black frock, meant business, ferociously spitting out insanely complex guitar licks and commanding, wailing vocals with a Jello Biafra-esque intensified warble. And of course, this was all complemented by raw, primal banshee screams. The crowd was more than ready for this; the floor opened up into a sweat-drenched writhing, pushing, jumping circle pit. A handful of lucky crowd surfers made it to the stage, cartwheeling and diving their way back into the teeming abyss. There was never a moment of silence, songs flowed into each other with militant drum beats or long burning guitar solos, Paternoster’s fingers shredding faster than seemingly possible. Screaming Females finished the set shortly after midnight with a two-song encore, closing with “Bell,” the first track off its 2009 release Power Move. Ending with the start seemed perfect, as it seemed like nobody in the audience wanted it to end. Dazed and maybe bruised, the crowd funneled out into the night.