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Marnie Stern’s show could be a challenging one to mix. Her guitar parts are mostly composed of either high-register fingertapping and tremolo, or loud power-chord breaks. Her singing mirrors the former: soprano and staccato. Meanwhile, she’s backed by busy drums and Nithin Kalvakota’s loud, thick bass.
Point being, it’s easy to see how her quieter, thinner sections could get drowned out, either by the rhythm section, her own vocals, or by being mixed at chord volume. In the joined, sprawling backyard of Eastside bars Hotel Vegas and The Volstead, it often did. It was one of 10 shows she played at the festival, and she notes that “There’s no way to do soundchecks at SX.”
To her credit, she gave her Jazzmaster’s fretboard a major workout. Bad sound at a shoegaze show, or anything with two or three guitarists, could sink the thing, but in addition to being funny and magnetic, she has a style that’s energetic and physical enough that you could easily follow along. Well, it’s also kind of bizarre, so maybe “follow along” isn’t the right phrase. It would be more apt to say that Stern is engaging and knows how to keep an audience’s attention. What’s impressive is that she alternates fluidly between her various techniques without making the songs sound disjointed or gimmicky. She convinces you that tapping frets while ooh-aah-eehing into the microphone is a normal and good way to play rock songs.
Watch Marnie Stern at SXSW 2013: