List person checks list. Finds name. Stamps hand. Says something.
Nod. Point. Nod. Point.
Nod. Nod. Nod. Slightly patronising smile. Point. Jab. Jab.
“Can I be downstairs?”
“Downstairs?” Point. Jab.
Further furrows. Further confusion. Eventual acceptance. Unspoken question: “Why?”
Well, because. For some gigs upstairs is fine. For some gigs upstairs is better. For Savages being close feels like the right thing to do. Not to dance, nor to mosh, nor to indulge in any kind of beery, stranger embracing ritual of togetherness, but because it feels like you should. It feels like it matters.
There it is. Savages give off the impression of mattering, from every iota of their being. If anything, the fact that it is now on a bigger scale makes it seem even truer. Taking the path from playing rooms round the backs of pubs to venues the size of the Forum, the unflinching dedication to stay the same course gives it an additional weight. It’s easy to stick to your principles when there’s nothing at stake.
There’s very little added to their show to mark this out as being a bigger occasion. The stage setup is minimal – no backdrop, no name emblazoned riser, just the odd spot light here and there. Musically as well, there’s no massive difference. If anything it is more uncompromising here then it was way back then.
The opening I Am Here is austere and coldly precise, Gemma Thompson pulling squalls of itchy noise from her guitar without so much as a glance up. It is followed by Shut Up, which has the brutalist impact of a concrete car park landing on your foot, as Ayse Hassan’s bass and Fay Milton’s drums take it in terms to throw short weighty jabs at your person.
One aspect which has changed is Jehnny Beth, who is far more animated. Previously content to merely try to glare a hole through the back of a venue, she now prowls her stage, roaming threateningly. By the end she’s perched on the barrier using her audience as support, in a manner reminiscent of Nick Cave’s attempts to hypnotise a crowd member at Glastonbury.
There’s no doubt, it is a serious show, in keeping with a serious debut album. And the seriousness of Savages does seem to put some people off. There’s a certain easy cynicism that can be rolled out in the face of manifestos and anti-phone requests as a defence mechanism. But reciprocate, and back Savages’ titanium-clad belief in what they’re doing with your own, and they seem properly special.
Of course it helps that they are such a blistering, single minded live act. There’s a visceral precision to the show which is captivating. The slashing riff of Strife is preceded by a wonderfully judged pause for impact. The piano-led Marshall Dear is stark and elegiac, while a cover of Suicide’s Dream Baby Dream is excellent and done with a lovely lightness of touch.
That lightness of touch is something that is thrown into greater contrast by the songs which bring the show to a climax. No Face is a ballistic whirling mass of noise and feedback. Hit Me is violent, breathless and as precariously balanced on the edge of destruction as their singer is on the edge of the pit, while Fuckers is strangely empowering, in a profane kind of way.
There is a mesmeric quality to Savages. Something that is hard not to imagine as stemming from that aforementioned belief. Their belief that what they’re doing matters. That it is important. You’re either with them, or you’re not. But they force you towards making that decision.