Live Review

Savages, SWG3, Glasgow

A contained and measured, if chilly, performance.


Photo: Michael Gallacher
Savages take their performances seriously. Polite notices ask that our phones not be used to film and take pictures of the gig, lest it distract from “totally immersing ourselves.” High ideals, tightly controlled presentation and such succinct manifestos all seek to preserve this band’s mystique.

Producer, partner and co-conspirator Johnny Hostile provides support. He is almost a cliche of rock rebel cool aesthetics – leather jacket, guitar and cheek bones framed just so against the backdrop of dry ice. His minimalist music is a languid brew of meagre beats, samples and groans. The technology may have changed but the poses haven’t, he could come from any point – 1958; 1978; now - straight from a cultural studies textbook authored by Richard Hell.

Similarly Savages are an impeccably packaged proposition of studied elegance and muscular rhythms; throwing the right poses and quoting the right influences.
Black-clad, confident, polished, they begin with a forceful ‘City’s Full’, singer Jehnny Beth’s tidy vocal swoops and yelps part Siouxie Sioux, part Ian Curtis entirely fitting their music’s new wave / no wave style.

However, tonight ‘Shut Up’ doesn’t quite find the drama conveyed in the song’s astonishing video clip. It demands Beth push it further, break a sweat and look like she means it. Its intensity asks for more anger in their performance, more force.

Her cold stare is a mask rarely cracked, interaction outside the songs is kept to a minimum. “How are you darlings?”, she primly introduces a “drum solo”. There may be some humour in the dark, but it’s well buried. Ayse Hassan’s dynamic bass playing propels them on, she even seems heaven forfend, to be enjoying herself, but always within self imposed boundaries.

‘Don’t let the fuckers get you down’ seems a naive mantra, it gains force from repetition but begs for Beth to lose her cool, drop her guard and transcend her theatricality. The throbbing rhythm almost saves it, cantering drums race for the finish but she remains aloof. She reveals the merest a glimpse of a vulpine grin when the lights go down, the better for her to see the audience, but it’s the only time she really includes us.

A long scream is sung carefully, they lack the wildness their name suggests. “Are you turned on?” she asks, but her gestures are anti-romantic. A masochistic streak emerges on ‘No Face’, “Don’t worry about breaking my heart”.

They clearly crave our undivided attention and certainly give their performance intense concentration - at the climax of ‘Husbands’ bassist Hassan and guitarist Gemma Thompson both hit their effects pedals at precisely the same time, coming forward on stage with the regularity of figures emerging from a cuckoo clock.

It is ‘Husbands’ which finally produces the shiver down the spine missing for the previous hour. Realising its whispered chant is a steal from Patti Smith’s ‘Horses’, a knowing reference no doubt, deflates the tension. Faye Milton’s drums clatter to the end and they leave, there will be no contrived encore forthcoming.

A contained and measured, if chilly, performance, as sharp as the planes of the warehouse venue’s Brutalist architecture.

Tags: Savages, Features

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