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Marnie Stern, Unusual Guitar Hero

Marnie Stern is an unusual kind of guitar hero. It’s not just that she’s a woman — that’s not so rare anymore. (As Stern points out in one song title, “Female Guitar Players Are the New Black.”) No, it’s her sound that really sets her apart. She plays incredibly quickly, using the two-handed tapping trick that Eddie Van Halen popularized, but she does it without any of the flashy string-bending or faux-Bach touches you heard in the ’80s, when the technique showed up in every heavy metal solo. (Guitar geeks like me will also note that she often plays it using thin-sounding, indie-rock-approved guitars like Danelectros and Fender Jazzmasters, rather than the tricked-out shredboards that Joe Satriani and Steve Vai play.) What’s more, it’s not clear that Stern ever actually plays a guitar solo. Instead, she plays intricate parts throughout her songs, even when she’s singing.

Stern’s music pits this barrage of notes from her guitar against coos, yelps, shouts, and her relatively conversational voice. It often sounds like you’re listening to two very different songs at once, but then both songs will veer off into unexpected directions. On record, Stern is usually accompanied by Zach Hill, the drummer extraordinaire behind the experimental band Hella. On tour, her two- or three-member backup band is usually made up of members of U.S. Maple or similarly avant-garde bands.

Still, Stern doesn’t quite fit in with any scene. Last year’s album, Marnie Stern, found her moving toward a more-accessible style. The lyrics are more personal, the singing more up front, and the guitar parts a little less overwhelming. Still, Stern sounds like no one but herself.

Tera Melos and Power Axe also perform.

MARNIE STERN: Soda Bar, Saturday, February 19, 9 p.m. 619-255-7224. $10, $12.

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Marnie Stern is an unusual kind of guitar hero. It’s not just that she’s a woman — that’s not so rare anymore. (As Stern points out in one song title, “Female Guitar Players Are the New Black.”) No, it’s her sound that really sets her apart. She plays incredibly quickly, using the two-handed tapping trick that Eddie Van Halen popularized, but she does it without any of the flashy string-bending or faux-Bach touches you heard in the ’80s, when the technique showed up in every heavy metal solo. (Guitar geeks like me will also note that she often plays it using thin-sounding, indie-rock-approved guitars like Danelectros and Fender Jazzmasters, rather than the tricked-out shredboards that Joe Satriani and Steve Vai play.) What’s more, it’s not clear that Stern ever actually plays a guitar solo. Instead, she plays intricate parts throughout her songs, even when she’s singing.

Stern’s music pits this barrage of notes from her guitar against coos, yelps, shouts, and her relatively conversational voice. It often sounds like you’re listening to two very different songs at once, but then both songs will veer off into unexpected directions. On record, Stern is usually accompanied by Zach Hill, the drummer extraordinaire behind the experimental band Hella. On tour, her two- or three-member backup band is usually made up of members of U.S. Maple or similarly avant-garde bands.

Still, Stern doesn’t quite fit in with any scene. Last year’s album, Marnie Stern, found her moving toward a more-accessible style. The lyrics are more personal, the singing more up front, and the guitar parts a little less overwhelming. Still, Stern sounds like no one but herself.

Tera Melos and Power Axe also perform.

MARNIE STERN: Soda Bar, Saturday, February 19, 9 p.m. 619-255-7224. $10, $12.

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