“Are you keeping your fluids up? It’s very important when it’s this warm” Katie Harkin of Sky Larkin implores midway through what is a compellingly impressive turn in support of notorious potty mouth Marnie Stern, prior to taking an expeditious swig of infamously dehydrating lager. The plea delivered in an almost maternal tone (albeit were Stern yo mama to have so negligently reared ya from the discomfort of the back of a dilapidated camper van), she ain’t wrong for as seasons go, summer is now very much in as The Garage becomes a hot and sticky cesspit heaving with intrigue. It’s the stuff of steamed lenses and desperately clingy denim, thus it feels strangely apt that Stern should dress us down with her insistently explicit patter.
She materialises without a soundcheck as is another of her long-standing tropes – there’s neither the interest nor necessary effort for such superfluity, as she and her grotesquely adept rhythm section pitch up and crank one out all over Sky Larkin’s gear. Thus although Stern might well have gotten “older and bolder” as she herself proclaims, haphazardly paraphrasing Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide, it’s her oldest habits which so apparently die hard.
“Can I get some more guitar onstage? If you turn the volume up, I’ll show you my vagina” she slurs between sips on a pint of fizzling white wine, before duly hoisting the hem of her floral dress high in a moment of purposive Marilyn Monroe whimsy. But for a moment, distracting as her ribald shtick verbal might well be, let’s attempt to focus on the music itself, shall we?
For although her beguiling tapping technique at times comes out a little like Wolfmother regenerating beneath a B movie full moon – as is quite incontrovertibly the case with You Don’t Turn Down – a brattish Transformer wins us right back. For Ash is real swell and supremely urgent even some three years on from its initial release as opener to her eponymous third, although for every breakneck throwback there’s a mild disappointment and an excessively scratchy Immortals fits that billing quite precisely.
Though her strangely masturbatory method and the tracks it ejaculates universally prove altogether preferable to her toilet humour interludes and indeed, a thought really ought to be spared, and in turn savoured, for long-serving bassist Nithin Kalvakota and newly appointed sometime cog in Parts & Labor Joe Wong, for it’s they that not only contribute bits of badinage here and there but so too construct the sturdy basis onto which Stern may project her glitzy trickery. For already a trademarkedly terse rhythm section tight as, well, I’d imagine Marnie could spawn a more acute simile there, it’s they that keep her as close to check as will ever be likely.
Even only a couple in, she seems a spoof on a quintessentially kooky Herbal Essences ad with vulgarity an auxiliary, if indispensable ingredient to the blend but if the comedic element could be reined in a touch, the newly contrived trio could yet make some effing great waves. It’s less a sideshow, and more of a petulant undertone continually pestering at her psyche until permitted to become a primary focus. Wilful humourism’s one thing, and The Chronicles of Marnia remains a darn rad pun though if she could only smoothen the coarseness and sand down the edges I can’t help but sense that the show itself would benefit greatly from such a minor cosmetic reconstruction.