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Screaming Females leader Marisa Paternoster steps out as Noun

Marissa Paternoster performing as Noun at O’Brien’s Pub in Allston on Sunday.
Marissa Paternoster performing as Noun at O’Brien’s Pub in Allston on Sunday.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

ALLSTON — Being alone on a stage with only an instrument invites vulnerability — the lack of boundaries between audience and performer mean that the art is the focal point for both. On Sunday afternoon at O'Brien's Pub, Marissa Paternoster — the New Jersey guitarist who's gained renown for her work with the bruising trio Screaming Females — took the stage as Noun, turning in a blistering, banter-light performance that cemented her status as one of indie rock's boldest talents.

The combination of Paternoster's precisely aimed guitar work — lightning-strike chords, meticulous picking, hanging feedback that linked songs together — and her commanding voice, a bellow that stretches vowel sounds and squeezes syllables so that they sound almost diabolical, made for a compelling experience that was enhanced by O'Brien's cozy confines.


Early on, tracks like the divinely aimed "Patience" and the spat-out "I Don't Love Anybody" brought to mind the rawest early work of PJ Harvey, who approached audiences in a similarly unflinching way. Midway through her set, Paternoster made the comparison explicit with a bracing, hoarse cover of "Dry," Harvey's vengeful gob aimed at the day-to-day humiliations of being a woman.

Paternoster's lyrics are full of hunger for connection and salvation, and her work implicitly explores the way those two connect. Her performance, meanwhile, was a thrilling example of how one person with a guitar and the courage to put what's in her head into the world can help alter its landscape, even on a heat-warped summer afternoon.

Noun's set was actually Paternoster's second stint on O'Brien's stage Sunday; earlier, she added guitar filigrees and backing vocals to Modern Hut, the "extreme loner folk" project of fellow Garden Stater Joe Steinhardt. (Steinhardt also runs Don Giovanni Records, a punk label that has released material by both Noun and Screaming Females; Paternoster produced Modern Hut's debut, "Generic Treasure.")


Modern Hut's music takes the worst feelings a person can have when they're alone ("I don't want to get adjusted to this world," for example) and puts them under a microscope; the results can be harrowing and at the same time funhouse-mirror funny, depending on how far removed one is from those emotional depths. Steinhardt's flat, eyes-forward affect and brutally straightforward lyrics were tempered by the guitars, which floated around him like clouds on a sunny day.

Maura Johnston can be reached at maura.johnston@gmail.com.