A special concert report from TMA correspondent, Friend of the Backseat Blogger. FOTBB headed over to Music Hall of Williamsburg to check out TMA fave, The Hives:
A Hives show hits like a captivating ballet: perfect choreography and a prima donna front and center.
Singer Howling Pelle Almqvist led his five-piece band through an hour-plus show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg Thursday night and, as with the two other Hives sets I’ve seen, the overwhelming takeaway is a performance of machinelike efficiency and no discernible spontaneity. On the plus side you get a mistake-free performance. On the minus side…you get a mistake-free performance. And safely returned home, you may still be wondering why you didn’t love it.
Take the small spectacle that led things off–a bouncy synth track played to a drum loop over the PA, the house lights dimmed and after a spell a bright red neon “Hives” sign lit up over the drum riser.
The audience sprung to applause and cheers, and then… nothing happened. The band was nowhere to be found. Five minutes later the Hives picked up their implements, clad in black and white matching suits, and we were off.
“Declare Guerre Nucleaire” was the second tune, a surprising pick from their back catalog. It may be a hint of where the band still thinks its bread’s buttered–with the unmistakable rocket beat typical of early Hives platters. Newer tunes dipped lower in Pelle’s vocal range, in fact, and several bordered on “slow.” The night’s only real humanity came in the surprising unsteady pace. Reliables crowd-pleasers like “Walk Idiot Walk,” “Main Offender” and the ubiquitous “Hate To Say I Told You So” all showed eventually, though.
Pelle Almqvist remains worth your money. Cat-like, slim and impossibly youthful, his love of spotlight almost threatens the wholly scripted persona, but anyone familiar with the Hives’ act knows what to expect (several audience members pulled his shoelaces loose when he got close enough, at which point he simply demanded they re-tie them, sometimes waiting a moment). He waved, he cracked off, he cupped hand to ear, he snapped off a hundred stage moves that were beautiful, but familiar. His inter- and over-song banter included shots at the audience (and even American literacy), all the while chest-thumping about how far his band’s come. It’s equal parts Mick Jagger, Bill Hicks and Mussolini.
The band’s adjusted their sound even more to reference way-back American garage like The Sonics and Screaming Jay Hawkins, increasing echoed cracked distortion in the guitars, thudding drum beats and what’s become a truly rousing cheetah scream. Pelle’s brother Nicholaus on guitar has ditched the neck seizures for Charlie Chaplin fall downs and rubber-faced gawking, all at just…the right…moments.
Drummer Chris Dangerous looks like a 50s pin-up with his lumberjack arms, though he seldom exerts noticeable sonic authority. And the night’s secret weapon, overlooked guitarist Vigilante Carlstroem, turned out indispensable with most of the soloing duties, as well as squalls of distortion that often put songs over the edge by themselves. Most important of all he’s the one performing those fleet chord progressions that make each composition unmistakable Hives product. Perhaps it is Vigilante, not Nicholaus that is really writing all the songs.
Recently, Sufjan Stevens told New York Magazine that going to rock shows is like watching the History Channel, something that probably caught a few people off guard. But the truth is rock ‘n’ roll is still in it’s infancy. The fact that rock forefather Chuck Berry is still alive and in his 80s is proof that the history of rock music is still being written.
The only thing really left is the craft, and this The Hives know. For a reasonable $21 they’ll hand you back a “rock show” curated with bombast and costumes, kicks and beats, loud guitars and the rhythm to hold it up.
They care just like straight-A students do. And while those are the folks giving the address at graduation, they probably beg out when you’re having a drink under the bleachers later.
Walking away from last night’s show, it felt nice to rejoin the world of the illiterate.