At the turn of the millennium, the sounds of The Hives, The White Stripes and The Strokes upped energy levels and brought bluesy guitar rock to the forefront of pop. Seven years later the poised posing, striking, strumming, heaving beats of The Hives still rises above the turbulent tide of wannabes following in their wake.
Before the Swedes comes opening support from Quit Your Day Job, who throw t-shirts into the crowd as if we were at a baseball game. They play a decent set, patriotically praising Sweden, kicking and screaming their way through hits from their first album Sweden We Have a Problem and highlights from their latest Tools for Fools. They play well, but the levels of irritation caused by the distracting antics of the synth-player are not measurable, lest you happen to have an extra-large desperate-and-inept-o-meter handy. He peels off all his clothes, including his socks, and vigorously humps his fragile little instrument. The crowd seemed to much appreciate some joker successfully pelting a whole bottle of amber liquid at the face of this nearly nude vision. Quit Your Day Job? Not just yet, boys.
Dan Sartain provides a great relief after such a dire opener. He is dramatically lit, emphasising his mightily high cheekbones that make him appear like some film noir freak. He’s toured the States with The White Stripes and released two albums, but there are still some minor presentation issues. He races through his showcase, leaving little room for applause, and does not introduce himself, making his set a tad impersonal and incongruous. Dressed head to toe in black, his hair in a slick quiff, he uses a ’50s microphone to sing some spunky rockabilly. His strengths lie in his idiosyncrasies. At his best and most comfortable he plays fantastic bluesy rock and roll whereas as his most mediocre he is monotonous and dry.
And then The Hives sign bursts into red and white neon. They emerge one at a time, soaking in the hysteria of the frenzied few at the front. Their black and white school boy uniforms are less abstruse than a nostalgic symbol of their playfulness and they look wonderful on stage as they set about giving us a lesson on how to be a formidable live act.
They produce an onslaught of garage, punk, guitar anthems which have permeated the popular appreciation of musical praxis to great acclaim since their last UK appearances two years ago. Their biggest hit Hate To Say I Told You So had the crowd bouncing around and singing at heady volumes. Diabolic Scheme, You Dress Up For Armageddon, It Won’t Be Long, Die, All Right and recent single Tick Tick Boom had similar effects.
Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist keeps his stage diving, peacocky Mick Jagger strutting, booty shaking, amp mounting and scissor kicking omnipresent while doing a great job charming the crowd with instruction and encouragement: “I believe the word is ‘Yeah!’.” They are never dwarfed by the scale of the venue. Pelle teases the crowd, telling them that there are only two tracks left because they have run out of time. But they return for an encore including a performance of Main Offender.
Whipping audiences into wild waves is never easy, but The Hives are still task masters at it.