Savages: Albert Hall, Manchester – live review

Savages © Melanie Smith

Savages | Bo Ningen

Albert Hall, Manchester

22nd February 2016

Louder Than War’s Anastasia Connor (words) and Melanie Smith (photos) were drawn to the much anticipated Savages show at the majestic Albert Hall, Manchester, and here is the review with photo gallery.

I have to warn you that this story doesn’t end on a happy note. I’ve never been a fan but somehow always felt uneasy about disliking this band. I remember the frenzy of their austere gothic post-punk debut Silence Yourself. I get what they were saying about not wanting to write sad love songs, about young people’s duty to rebel and their own refusal to do meaningless encores. Some of my favourite bands were their fans and they promoted artists I liked. And yet…

My first experience of Savages goes back to the spring of 2012 when they played a low key gig at a West London cinema to an audience of about two dozen people. At the time they were a buzz band with a reputation for intense live shows. That night they were everything they were meant to be: direct, uncompromising and heavily indebted to their post-punk roots. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have a problem with their debut being so brazenly derivative. Recycling is what pop music and culture is about and is essential to its nature.

The problem is that great bands don’t just borrow or even steal; they create a new world, a new headspace that amounts to more than just a sum of its constituent parts. Sadly, it seemed that although Savages had a sharp instinct about the direction they were heading into, they failed to deliver for lack of original ideas.

Savages © Melanie SmithMore than anything, however, it was their portentous, zealous attitude that put me off their music. And there was plenty of evidence, from pretentious notices shaming fans into not talking pictures during gigs to some notoriously confrontational interviews. In short, there was a certain desperately image-conscious, attention-seeking and controlling element covering up what seemed like a limited range of songwriting skills and a random selection of second-hand philosophies.

Adore Life turned out to be a happy surprise of a smoother, more complex and expansive record. It wasn’t exactly revolutionary but it’s musical reference points were much wider. It felt more sparse and at the same time more engaging. But to achieve this they had to do away with some of that wiry post-punk intensity, which is their raison d’être. It’s what they are and their essence is live shows. Which is why I chose to give Savages another chance. Or at least give myself an opportunity to discover why they’re regarded as one of the best live bands in the country and how their new album translated into a live setting. So back to that Monday night…

To add to the sense of danger and tension, Savages appeared on stage a little later than scheduled. Their sharp dark-clad image complemented by monochrome lighting heralded an urgent and brooding presence. ‘Sad Person’, not an obvious set opener, didn’t quite hit the nerve but soon they grabbed the crowd’s attention. Jehnny Beth is a polished performer. Attacking and retreating like a panther, she lunged forward and pulled back, leaping across the stage with a coiled tension in her icy stare. There was no doubt she meant every word. “This one is for the ladies,” she said suddenly, before launching into the psychotic mantra of ’She Will’. It was intense, super sexy, aggressive and confrontational; in other words, it was Savages at their best.

Savages © Melanie Smith

Even though conceptually the band were treading the same ground of binary oppositions (good/evil, darkness/light) and maximalist principles ( “If you don’t love me / You don’t love anybody”), looking at the moshpit in the centre there was no denial the band’s energy and conviction clearly worked in the context of their new material. ‘Evil’’s disco beat sounded compelling. The recent single ‘Answer’ was impressively poignant and violently tense. Audience talk was minimal: a few declarations of love for Manchester, one or two snappy song introductions and a somewhat confusing explanation (an audience member fainting) of their sudden interruption of ‘Husbands’, a frenetic show of ecstasy and terror that’s still their best song.

And they sure know how to work the crowd! Leaving their recent big single ‘TIWYG’ to the tail end of the set, Jehnny launched herself crawling and walking atop the rapturous audience, powered by Ayse Hassan’s fierce baseline. Just to emphasise the full blooded drama of the show, the light cast a giant shadow of Jehnny across the walls and ceiling of the former house of God. It was a masterstroke, the visionary culmination of their show. ‘Adore’, the opening track of the new album, brought the entire audience to their feet in a closing standing ovation, which also somehow made the final number, ‘Fuckers’, feel somewhat unnecessary, like err… an encore of a band who don’t do encores.

Savages © Melanie Smith

It was an impressive show but it didn’t convert me into a fan. For starters, it was hard to avoid the ever-present suspicion that at the end of the day Savages are simply not interesting enough. Ironically, seeing their supporting band Bo Ningen made these thoughts more pronounced. Genuinely weird, wild and sonically intoxicating, their set was a gender and genre defying spectacle. It’s sheer live-giving force was not there to control and make you do things. It was a feral, wondrous natural force.

Savages, on the other hand, are all about power and control. They don’t ask you, try to seduce or bedazzle you, they force you to listen. And it all feels ruthlessly, greedy premeditated: down to the last millisecond of darkness/light, the minute nuance of each gesture and each note. What’s more, their goth inspired aesthetic and punk sensibilities channel their rage into artful pretensions and pseudo-political manifestos rather than the joyful Dionysian chaos that could add some much-needed warmth and colour to their image.

First we were told to silence ourselves and now we are commanded to adore life. There is something very literal and very direct about Savages which could be either appealing or off-putting, depending who’s listening. I wanted to like them (perhaps to love them!) but deep down I knew it was going to be a struggle. They may be raising the questions but I’m uncertain they’re the answer.

Photo gallery:


Please note: Use of these images in any form without permission is illegal. If you wish to use /purchase or license any images please contact mel@mudkissphotography.co.uk

For more information about Savages and to buy ‘Adore Life’ visit http://savagesband.com. They can also be located on Facebook and Twitter.

All words by Anastasia Connor. She also tweets as @Lidl_Donkey.

Photos by Melanie Smith. More work by Mel on Louder Than War can be found at her author’s archive.
You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.
Photography portfolio can be found here:mudkissphotography.co.uk.

The Author

Words by

Share and comment

3 comments on “Savages: Albert Hall, Manchester – live review”

Leave a comment?
  1. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and the review is well written but having seen the band 28 times from the sparsely populated Joiners across to France and both the first album launch and many others gigs including The 100 Club, Club New Slang, Bexhill-on-Sea and Cambridge in the last few weeks plus there collaborations with A Dead Forest Index, Bo Ningen and others I feel the reviewer missed an opportunity to actually understand what is going on.

    Yes Savages have taken a lot from past bands, past styles and past music but together they blend it into their own non-compromising and jaw droppingly good sound. They are ALIVE and so obviously enjoying what they do.

    As an oldie, one of Salisbury’s first ever mohican haired punks, I have developed a real eclectic taste in music over the years, however I had just about stopped going to live gigs and searching out new music as things just seemed so bloody boring.

    However after first seeing hearing and meeting Savages I was reborn musically. I found there was life in new music after all and o now enjoy not only finding new bands etc but exploring some of those I had missed over the past few decades.

    To that end I will always be eternally grateful to Savages. To see hear and feel the energy that Jehnny, Ayse, Gemma and Faye convey through there music both recorded and live is to experience a little excitement in our lives.

    Perhaps there are a few ideas from past bands and music within their work but we have to live with the fact that in most bands there will be influences here and there and that’s fine but don’t let anyone tell me that Savages are going through the motions, copying others or are boring and contrived.

    They are who they are, four women who are on a journey to who knows where and I for one feel privileged to be on that journey with them.

    P.S. Myself and fellow Savages fan Dave Todd now present several online radio shows and without the rekindling of our musical minds by this band I can be totally honest and say it would not have been something either of us would have considered.

    Looking forward to Amsterdam and The Roundhouse next!

  2. I’m sorry you feel that way about Savages, Anastasia but you are entitled to your opinion I suppose, even it means only having seen them twice live to formulate those assumptions. But I can assure you that if you had the chance to speak with them, they are anything but.

    As someone who has seen them since that surreal gig at the FuhrerBunker in Salford in 2012, when Jehn was still an intense but nervous, performer reading lyrics off her notebook, seeing Ayse play the bass with her eyes closed throughout the set, Fay’s energetic drumming and taking in the sounds coming from Gemma’s guitar – the experience left me convinced they weren’t just another band peddling borrowed sounds. They weren’t about “power and control” then and they certainly aren’t now either: 12 fantastic Savages gigs and 3 years later, they are still as relevant, as intense, as the first time I saw them. As a band, they have progressed so much.

    The whole thing about “shaming fans into not taking photos at gigs” – it’s not about shaming fans, it’s about respecting fans. We go to shows to watch bands perform, not look at them through someone else’s screens. The amount of times I’ve had to ask the inconsiderate person with a phone held high up for most of the duration at shows (not just Savages shows) to please kindly put their phone away so that myself and the people behind them could actually enjoy the performance – these times have been unacceptably numerous.

    Savages are a band with something to say – whether it’s about about not letting motherfuckers get you down or embracing your sexuality or whatever – and they choose to communicate it directly. Maybe this directness may not appeal to everyone, and that’s totally fine too.
    We’re not being “told” or “commanded” on what we should or shouldn’t be doing, in fact it’s the opposite – for me, their music is an invitation to not be afraid to look inside ourselves, an invitation to question everything – whether that be about fears, hopes, love, dreams, a reminder that we have choices and we can make these choices and sometimes we make the wrong choices but it’s ours to make – in this way their music is of empowerment.

    Offstage and in person, Jehn, Gemma, Ayse and Fay are the nicest, most genuine gentle-humans I’ve had the privilege to meet.

    I know this comment won’t make you change your mind and turn you into an instant fan, and to be honest it really doesn’t matter. At the very least, we’ve had the opportunity to hear it from both sides, and that’s totally cool. :)

  3. I’ve been listening to Savages on Spotify for the past couple of months and was intrigued enough by their sound to go to their show last night in Kansas.

    I’ve had about four life-changing musical experiences in my 45-years. Now I’ve had five. Their pacing of the show was perfect. After belting out a brutal rendition of ‘Answer,’ Jehnny proclaimed that that was fun, but it was time to go faster and proceeded to do so with Hit Me, No Face, and T.I.W.Y.G. Probably one of the most intense live moments I’ve experienced.

    Fortunately, live shows are not made up of words on paper. It’s music, emotion, and light. Even the best writer can’t effectively communicate such an experience. So, if you appreciate a good live show, and you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity be in the same space when Savages are sharing their love. Do it. You’ll be a better person afterward.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *