Savages show off youthful swagger in Seattle
The U.K. buzz band impresses during a sold-out club gig
By Paul Pearson
Special to MSN Music
SEATTLE – I have a lot of theories as to why this is, none of which I think I have the space to go into here, but I feel the art of being a front person of a band has gotten lost a little in the digital music age. Being a solo artist confers at least some effort to assert yourself, but to my eyes a lot more new bands are depending on democratic anonymity to get themselves across. There are exceptions, of course, and none of them are more committed than Jehnny Beth of the British band Savages.
In their hour-plus-long set at Neumos the all-female quartet maintained an edgy, wholly confident level of stress and tension, with Beth shouldering the lion’s share of the responsibility. The band’s references stem from heavy doses of Joy Division and U2’s earliest work, and Beth channels the same power and wrath that was necessary and vital to those bands’ success. She knows when to let herself get carried away and when to recede to let the audience make their own anticipation. Her self-containment and her dead-eyed stare-downs have the same impact.
The sold-out crowd stood in stark contrast to Savages’ April appearance at Neumos, which was more sparsely attended. In subsequent months their debut full-length “Silence Yourself” attained nearly worldwide acclaim, and the band punctuated a full touring schedule with appearances at Coachella and the Glastonbury Festival. By the time they returned to Seattle they had all the signs of a young band that’s been road-tested: an assured rapport, a budding knowledge of how to control a crowd, and maybe just the slightest over-estimation of their own importance.
Beth cut a Nosferatu-like presence during most of the silences that preceded Savages’ songs, a looming prowl that hints of calculation, but undoubtedly went over well with the audience. Yet while she skated on the edge of abandon on “I Am Here” and “She Will,” there was a sense that she knew just how far to take herself without going over the edge. Guitarist Gemma Thompson and bassist Ayse Hassan made for a tight, minimalist backup flooded with echo, even if their mood was a little constricted by the confines of the club. Drummer Fay Milton’s performance was a little muted as well. So the ball was really in Beth’s hands, and she ultimately knew what to do with it.
Savages’ well-publicized signs pleading for no cameraphones (“[taking pictures] prevents all of us from totally immersing ourselves… let’s make this evening special”) were posted at the front door, and with the exception of about five or six people the audience complied. For what it’s worth, it’s easy to see how Savages depends on that prohibition to make their show work. But the question of how much Beth can cast a spell over her audience is ultimately in her hands, and if nothing else she seems intent on working that answer out.
Her best moment came at the end of the night, with Savages’ most obvious conceit: a nearly 15-minute song with a title I can’t repeat here. (Fill in the blank: “Don’t let the ------s get you down.” There’s your song title.) In a deliberately paced, high-drama spectacle, Beth and the band built a slowly ascendant mood that unfolded as plainly as possible. They found the release point and all went off together, then sustained that bomb blast for as long as possible, before Beth casually remarked “That was our last song.” It was cheeky, presumptuous and effective, all at the same time. It was youthful cockiness at its finest, which proves that Savages understands at least one important requirement of rock and roll. Let’s see what else they pick up.
Photo by Antoine Carlier
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