Savages: Electric Ballroom, London – live review
There is much hyperbole and big talk in rock n roll and often enthusiasm is mistaken for hype but as Savages reach an astonishing peak in their live set I can’t help myself and lean towards Luke Turner, editor of the great Quietus website and blurt out that Savages really are the best band in the Britain right now.
I know bands hate this kind of thing but at this moment in time they not only capture the moment – they own the moment.
We have reviewed them on the site several times so I think we all get the drift that musically their combination of the inventive and darkly tinged brilliance of the so called goth bands like Bauhaus and Joy Division has been brilliantly utilised and moved forward into a new millennium. They also have a post punk thing going on there and moments of the dirty disco of Section 25 and any band from the last 30 years who wanted to get creative with guitar, bass and drums and not do the same old thing. I don’t want to dwell on influences to much because, too be honest, Savages are really a breath of fresh air and sound totally new and the so called influences are mere signposts to where they are coming from and not an accurate distillation of their brilliance.
In the few months since we have last seen them they have moved into fast forward. Then they were thrillingly chaotic, a brand new band blinking in the spotlight with their own way of making a new noise. Now, barely a year in, they are in first gear. The big venue suits them, the room is packed and the size of the place lets the space in their songs really breathe without losing the compressed claustrophobia of their sound. Suddenly you get the sense of the sheer size of these songs and the way that they have a dark dub undertow to their sound that they explore really effectively on their slow songs. It’s these slower songs that are really coming to the fore now – atmospheric and brooding and filled with possibilities and great guitar dynamics.
You can hear hear all of Gemma Thompson’s thrilling guitar noise, like Bauhaus she never does anything boring like a riff or a solo- just an inventive use of noise and sound. She is never lazy, never overplaying and with a total use of dynamics. The boy guitar players need to get in a queue and check this out because somehow Gemma has reinvented the most overplayed instrument in the world and has found a way of making her own language from the electricity and it sounds amazing.
Luckily she has one of the great rhythm sections to work with. It’s all very well reinventing the guitar but if the drums and bass are plodding you will crash dive instantly. Fay Milton is a powerful drummer, all pounding toms or concise but never lazy rhythm options whilst Ayse Hassan plays one of those lead basses that is always hooked around a great line, driving the songs forward as she dances on the sheer joy and raw power of the music.
In the middle of this maelstrom stands Jehnny with her waif like charisma and those eyes that transfix the room. Her angular presence and undertow of anger, her cropped hair and her intensity make her one of the great singers. She owns the room and has the iconic presence of a young Rotten or an Ian Curtis or any of the key singers who were doing things their way and not in the please love me bullshit of the showbiz ponies shaking their tail feathers.
It’s this brilliantly non conformist but cool as fuck personae that makes Savages stand out. She is also a brilliant singer who makes each song have its own life with her various shades of singing that has lazily been bagged with the mighty Siouxsie- like that is the only woman anyone can think of who didn’t sing like a pop blonde, when in fact there is an endless tradition of great female singers that we will not list here for now.
The anthemic Husbands is their best known song and has grown into a monster whilst their non typical, set enter, Don’t Let The Fuckers Get You Down, is almost an almost simplistic chant, a defiant mantra for the dispossessed and the pushed aside.
In these psychotic and dark times people often ask if there will be a new punk, somehow expecting a whole army of bands to suddenly appear singing songs about tower blocks and the dole, instantly missing the fact that most punk wasn’t that obvious whilst getting lost in the idea that we needed a rerun of one of the great rock n roll movies to save us all from ourselves.
Savages haven’t come to save us, they just instinctively and by chance make the creative and thrillingly dark and delicious sound that perfectly mirrors where we are at right now but also with a timeless edge, raw power, inventive brilliance that maps out the future.
They are also a great pop band and the perfect antidote to the boring Brits and their mixture of ‘Dorm- indie’ posh boys and fixed grin boy bands. This feels like a Sex Pistols moment, a moment when a band tears the fabric of conformity and the only question that hangs in the air is do we dare run with this…a riffreflected in Fay Milton’s flailing top knot, Ayse Hassan’s increasingly sturdy bass, flaying guitar from Gemma Thompson.