Live Music + Gig Reviews

Savages @ Shacklewell Arms, London

29 May 2012

It’s the intensity that does it. The intensity that separates Savages from the charlatans. The fakers. The liars. The cheaters. It’s the intensity which makes them something else. The intensity that leaves you shaken, leaves you turned over like a mattress in a burglary.

It’s an intensity displayed in different ways. Stage left, Ayse Hassan (bass), eyes closed. Blissfully chewing. As peaceful as a buddha. At the back, Fay Milton (drums), head cocked. Pounding metronomically. Focussed as a sniper. To her right, Gemma Thompson (guitar), arched over her instrument. Hair down. As immersed in her task as a Queen’s guard. Front and centre, Jehnny Beth (vocals), gazing out. Eyes burning. Dancing like she has no choice.

It is a sight, affirming and energising. Cramped into this small room on a hot day, it is intense. The name is appropriate. There is a savagery to Savages. But it’s not without purpose and perspective.

Their sound points in a variety of directions. Towards Joy Divison in both the low-slung rumbling fluidity of the basslines and the way the beat locks into the groove that is carved. Towards The Birthday Party in the creation of these squalling riffs that flock around your head like a swarm of bees. Towards Gang Of Four, in the skeletal way some songs are stripped back with pointed precision.

There’s also something of the blood-stained falsetto of White Chalk era PJ Harvey in Beth’s vocals. Fragile, yet with an undercurrent of violence. And intense. Really, really, intense.

Out of these recognisable moulds Savages bash something new. The two sides of their recently released single, Flying To Berlin and Husbands, are spectacular. The former springing along on a languid bounce that is almost dubby, and the later recreated in all its frantic glory. It’s inescapably brilliant.

They introduce a new one, No Face. It follows a similar stuttering dynamic and ends in a howling finish. It does that thing which great tracks do, instantly imprinting deep into your consciousness with a gleeful sense of its own immense worth.

They end with She Will, a song which sounds like someone trying to drown an Interpol single. It thrashes and rages against the hand forcing it under for what seems like an eternity and then, slowly, slows. It gasps for breath and then… Expires.

By now no one is static. Everyone is moving. The applause that often only trickles around venues like this, during occasions like this, is more of a flood. Savages are intensely something else.

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