scorecardresearch Skip to main content
Music REview

Joanna Gruesome tops a thoughtfully noisy bill at the Sinclair

Alanna McArdle led Joanna Gruesome (pictured earlier this month at in London) in a boisterous show at the Sinclair.Burak Cingi/Redferns via Getty Images

CAMBRIDGE — Wednesday night’s bill at the Sinclair was headed up by two acts who specialize in noise — distorted guitars, runaway drums, heavy static. Each band employs noisiness for slightly different ends; the Syracuse outfit Perfect Pussy uses it as a tool to make catharsis less painful, while the Welsh quintet Joanna Gruesome scatters it in a way that adds not just a bite, but a roar to chiming guitar pop.

Perfect Pussy has been heavily feted in the press for its messy, barely controlled rock, and particularly its brief, brutal live assaults. The band’s set on Wednesday wasn’t even half an hour long, but its impact was highly concentrated. Lead singer Meredith Graves is the focal point, bending and contorting as she bellows — although her vocals are often cloaked in distortion and her bandmates’ brutal playing, which takes most of its cues from fast-breaking hardcore while weaving in proto-punk riffs and complex basslines.


The shielding is deliberate: Graves’s lyrics are hyperpersonal manifestos on lost hopes and other disappointments, and the disorder surrounding them makes that pain essentially hide in plain sight. The occasional lyric does shine through — like the climactic “Interference Fits” line “since when do we say yes to love,” from which their first full-length album’s title is taken — which only heightens the overall emotional affect.

Joanna Gruesome’s music exists in the space where the sweet and the ferocious meet; its 2013 album, “Weird Sister,” is a short, sharp exercise in chaos. Vocalist Alanna McArdle leads the way, balancing wails and sugary trilling while the rest of her band shape-shifts along with her. “Secret Surprise,” which the band started with on Wednesday, goes from schoolyard taunt to sweet pop confection in what feels like a breath before racing to its finish line. Spun-sugar verses in “Wussy Void” are tempered by dissonant guitar lines, then exploded in a coda; the storming riffs of “Anti Parent Cowboy Killers” swirl around McArdle’s sing-song soprano, which narrows into a wail just long enough to add an ominous edge.


Near the end of the night, McArdle upbraided audience members whose jostle-heavy dancing was making fellow concertgoers feel unsafe. It doubled as a reminder, particularly in the context of the shambolic fury that had been onstage, that being mindful of others’ well-being is a pretty punk rock gesture.

Maura Johnston can be reached at