The four young women of Savages would have been just wee lasses when their headlining pals of Australian group Crime And The City Solution last played live. Indeed, more than 20 years stand between the previous Crime And The City Solution tour and their curious return to the stage at Queen Elizabeth Hall. The US and European tour – only made possible by crowdsourcing donations – features most of the members of their Berlin-era line-up reworking songs from 1987-1991, as well as songs from their new album, American Twilight, set to be released by Mute next spring.
So why the wait? The band – formed in Sydney in 1977 – explain the hiatus on their website as such: “Someone went to the shop to get some milk and when they returned, 20 years later, some of us had been on the laugh, the tickle, even the joke, others, our clocks had been well and truly cleaned, while the remainder had withdrawn into various levels of simmering madness, but the stories had continued all the while, fermenting like jailhouse wine in the roadhouses and truck stops.” Ah yes, the stories. Led by debonair frontman Simon Bonney – decked out in a necklace of beads, polka dot shirt and a beige suit – the group offered a masterclass in sonic over-indulgence as they created a lush maelstrom of duelling guitars and flailing violin cast against Bonney’s apocalyptic lyrics.
It stood in stark contrast to the cold claustrophic attack of support band Savages, who spent their entire set in a dark cocoon as they stabbed, ripped and ground their way through music owing no small debt to Joy Division, The Cure, Sixousie & The Banshees and The Slits. It was a savage exercise in economy as they made every note and caustic lyric from singer Jehnny Beth count.
But the antidote to their harsh and unforgiving set arrived with the headliners, reuniting in London to the delight of their long-serving fans. With original members Alexander Hacke (guitar) and Bronwyn Adams (violin) joined by Jim White (drums), David Eugene Edwards (guitar), Danielle de Picciotto (visuals/background vocals), Matthew Smith (keyboards) and Troy Gregory (bass), The Crime And The City Solution experience resumed with a frenzy of Bonney’s fire and brimstone lyrics mixed with the band’s full-on raw Americana blues-tinged gospel rock. A few songs in, it make perfect sense that Bonney grew up in Australia and was pals with Mick Harvey, formerly of The Bad Seeds. Both bands have strong affections for biblical imagery and both have dabbled their way through drugs, Berlin and an addiction to Americana. But where true bad seed Nick Cave goes the extra mile as the demented preacher turned pervy dropout, Bonney assumes the role of suave orator of ‘cautionary tales’ such as their curtain-closing new song American Twilight, which concludes with a rather tedious and lengthy barrage of noise as Bonney invokes ‘armaggedon’.
This was the approach of a band that hasn’t changed much in two decades. Their Berlin songs sounded almost identical to their new tunes, so much so that Bonney made a point of highlighting them before jumping in. Anyone that came to the show cold would have struggled to believe their middle-aged rockers were on a victory lap, while their fans would have been delighted to hear they have held their nerve and can still produce some fine moments on stage. Those included Hacke and new guitarist David Eugene Edwards engaging in some fiery guitar v guitar riffs and rockstar posing, while drummer Jim White added some superb nuances to the music with his battery of subtle fills, rolls and off-kilter backbeats. Oh, and who could not have raised an eyebrow at violinst Bronwyn Adams’ rather hilarious, erm, eyebrow-raising between songs – which veered between seductive and worrying.
If Crime And The City Solution wanted to show the world that they were back, loud and still willing to sprinkle a bit of magical dust onto a holy book and invoke the devil, their Friday night in London was a success. But if you were looking for the band to being a new chapter, think again. The only band on the bill embarking on a thrilling new mission of profound discovery was Savages.