Screaming Females – Live at the Hideout

So why are live albums made? In the ’70s, when the live album format reached its acme (or nadir, depending on your perspective) with mondo-selling gems like KISS Alive, Frampton Comes Alive and Cheap Trick at Budokan, the live album was about as close to the concert experience a kid in the hinterlands could get. You could listen to the album while staring at the photos inside and imagine what it might be like to actually be there. Oh yeah, the gatefold LP sleeve was good for rolling joints, too.

Well into the post-millennial era, the live album has become a much rarer commodity. There are scads of live videos available of almost every band on the planet. Whether or not the band actually wants the videos to circulate is another matter. Anyway, there’s just not much demand for live audio recordings any more.

This leads us to another vexation. Screaming Females just released the excellent Steve Albini recorded/engineered Ugly last year. Ugly was pretty much a “live in the studio” affair – which is to say there was very little overdubbing. So Ugly delivered the band almost exactly as it would sound live, barring fuckups. And the road warriors in Screaming Females rarely fuck up.

Live at The Hideout chronicles a two-night stand at the tiny Chicago dive bar, The Hideout. And the album is again recorded by Albini. And of course it sounds great.

Screaming Females are for all intents and purposes guitarist/vocalist Marissa Paternoster’s band. The diminutive front-woman has a huge voice and absolutely shreds on guitar. Both instruments (Paternoster’s voice and guitar) are featured prominently in the mix. Paternoster is an exceptional guitarist in an age when the art of guitar soloing has been forgotten, discarded and/or delivered as postmodern parody. And the renditions are practically flawless on Live at The Hideout – a small miracle when you consider the complexity of the songs. So what we have here is pretty doggone good live recording that’s actually live.

The Screaming Females are a band that most deftly employ the dynamics of tension and release in their live shows. And there are passages of Live at the Hideout that do in fact conjure memories of seeing the band when they were standing ten feet in front of me. But hearing this album and thinking, “wow, that must’ve been cool” nowhere nearly replicates the ecstatic heights the band reaches when performing in real time. In other words, you just had to have been there, man.

Still, Live at The Hideout is a pretty good document, a bookend for Screaming Females completists. The album indeed proves that the band can nail it down live. But they prove it much better when you’re really there – when the band is standing ten feet in front of you, sweating profusely and jamming their asses off.

Screaming Females
Live at The Hideout
[Don Giovanni]