As the lights dimmed a bit, my pal leaned over and whispered, "Marnie Stern taught herself how to play guitar." Marnie, blonde and having a refreshing unassuming air about her, greeted the audience and set to blistering our faces with her newfound guitar playing (i.e. finger tapping/shreddage).
Drummer Jim Sykes (Parts & Labor) is a rampaging manimal. I have never seen a drummer make his drums sway and quake the way his did. I forget how many drum sticks he killed during the set. What Marnie does to her guitar, Sykes seems to do to his drum kit, yet with even more fervor.
Rounding out the live version of the band was US Maple's Mark Shippy. Though not showy (in a way Stern & Sykes appear to do in an innately unassuming fashion), his board o' pedals and licks were impressive, not to mention the Bissell-esque height at which he held his guitar.
Thinking that the set would be good but easy to zone out if necessary (i.e. text, bathroom break, etc) the first song hit me like a wave of electricity. The second made me want to fight orcs and sail on a multi-colored sea. However, a lot of things can make me yearn to sword fight with Tolkien characters.
With Zach Hill on the drums in the studio, the Hella comparison is easy to make. I found that the sound was quite similar, yet Marnie Stern's is fuller, more melodic – even with the awesome cacophony assaulting your eardrums. As I look at my notes I see I jotted down: "awesome deafening crackle, speeding toward a brick wall at 100 mph and enjoying every second." Days later, I still agree with that assessment. My three favorites from that night: "Grapefruit" "Precious Metal" and "Prime".