In Good Stuff I Haven’t Heard Anything Like In A Long Time news, the band Savages popped up on my radar when they blew up at Coachella earlier this year. My first introduction to their music was the single Husbands, which immediately drew comparisons to Siouxsie and the Banshees in my mind and had me screaming HUSBANDS! HUSBANDS! HUSBANDS! at my husband for dramatic effect. The single peaked my interest just enough to buy the album—I still do that—buy the album because I like one damn song. And the fact that they are an all female act obviously putting balls to the wall probably influenced my decision as well. I was really excited for the opportunity to see what they were like live. The truth is I’ve been craving a bit more sauce lately. It seems like a lot of alternative music on the scene right now is just sooooo polite. Ukulele people—consider this your official notice.
SAVAGES DEBUT ALBUM, SILENCE YOURSELF IS RAW AND UNAPOLOGETIC.
I haven’t lived in this post-punk musical space for a long time. And while I loved the first radio releases Husbands and She Will, it took me a few listens before I began to appreciate the rest of the album. Dark roots aside, if Silence Yourself had been released in the 80’s this band surely would have been counted among my favorites. Jehnny Beth’s lead vocals blew me away and the band Gemma Thompson (guitar), Ayse Hassan (bass), Fay Milton (drums) is musically solid. During the first play of the entire Silence Yourself album my thoughts went something like—this is what Siouxie would have sounded like if Geddy Lee of Rush sang leads—but that sentiment would be temporary.
I had missed the show earlier this year at The Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis and went to the show at First Avenue on September 17st with minimal expectations. I had heard good things about the live show but didn’t want to get ahead of myself and be disappointed. Immediately during the first song I Am Here I threw out my previous comparison of Beth’s vocal style to Geddy Lee. The dark and theatrical nature of their act was something that I didn’t entirely pick up on just listening to the album—which in all honesty left me with a good but recycled Riot grrrls impression of the band. However, during the live show, the band, dressed in all black on a minimalist, starkly lit stage pounded through a set that removed any doubts I’d had that Savages bring the goods both musically and artistically.
Jehnny Beth is basically what I would imagine a baby sired by Peter Murphy and born of Sinéad O’Connor would sound and act like. She is definitely meant for the spotlight and is a critical component to the band’s sound. The vibe of the show was not as dark as Bauhaus but Thompson’s guitar sounds were absolutely right out of the Bauhaus gothic playbook with lots of spring reverb and scratchy sliding pick sounds to an EBow-ish effect— especially on I Need Something New, Strife and Fuckers. Interestingly, Strife and Waiting For A Sign are listed as being dedicated to Beth’s boyfriend Johnny Hostile on the album. Hostile—who definitely has a Peter Murphyesque vibe about him—founded the band’s label Pop Noir with Beth and performed with them on the last tune Fuckers.
Savages Live at First Avenue. Sorry, I was listening to the music—not trying to get a great photo!
THE THEATRICAL NATURE OF BETH’S PERFORMANCE WAS BOTH COMMANDING AND OVER THE TOP.
Provoking the audience before the song Hit Me she cooed, “I’m a dirty little dog. I want to be smacked…Hit me!”
With the intended effect, there was awkward shifting all around. Occasionally the theatrics felt a bit forced, creating a less intimate vibe than I may have expected at such a small venue. In some ways this show seems primed for a bigger arena where a lack of intimacy and larger than life theatrics play better. In one of the few non scripted moments during the setup for Marshal Dear in which there was a brief pause as crew brought in a piano, Beth said, “Did I hear a boo? [pause] That’s fine,” she smirked. (I didn’t hear it, so I have no idea what that was about, but I loved her response.)
Many have compared Beth’s dancing to Ian Curtis of Joy Division and whether intentional or not I would agree that this is an esthetic that is carefully crafted. That said, I loved the androgynous nature of the act and the fact that while playing on sexual themes the sex of the actors felt entirely irrelevant to the experience. I’ve been longing for this sort of female voice in rock for a long time. I’m tired of male dominance in the music industry and anyone who takes away any reason to put sexuality first has my vote all the way.
Being a fan of all things ghostly, I thought it was pretty cool when at the end of the song Waiting for a Sign, the mic dropped from the stand unexpectedly and Beth said, “There is a spirit in the room.” If you know anything about First Avenue, you know that the place is haunted. That moment gave me chills!
The crowd was a good mix of young and old, including the usual bearded hipsters, something that I think was supposed to be modern scene kids as well as aging punk rockers and middle-aged rock fans. Clearly Savages have hit on that certain something we can all appreciate.
1. I Am Here [Silence Yourself]
2. City’s Full [Silence Yourself]
3. Shut Up [Silence Yourself]
4. I Need Something New
5. Strife [Silence Yourself]
6. Waiting for a Sign [Silence Yourself]
7. Flying to Berlin [single]
8. She Will [Silence Yourself]
9. No Face [Silence Yourself]
10. Hit Me [Silence Yourself]
11. Husbands [Silence Yourself]
12. Marshal Dear [Silence Yourself] (with special guest opener Duke Garwood on sax)
13. Fuckers [new song] (with Duke Garwood and Johnny Hostile on guitar)