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LIVE REPORT: Savages
Luke Turner , February 22nd, 2013 21:13

Luke Turner just can't enough of Savages, can he? A live review of last night's brilliant gig at the Electric Ballroom. Photos by Valerio Berdini

So just a year after their first gig down in a manky former theatre in Brighton, Savages are here in the Electric Ballroom for an NME awards gig, with all that implies: no longer quite as partisan or curious as audiences might have been at first, less record label heads crammed at the back, and a room where the sound has to travel much further and try and impress far more ears. So as far as Quietus reviews goes, this is part of a regular series explaining how these four young people just make - entirely effortlessly - the best punk rock righteous music going at the moment. Y'know, John Robb never talks shit, and John Robb rightly leans over my shoulder and says "they’re the best band in Britain right now, aren’t they?”

Of course, this has been said before about other bands who get to play to such huge crowds on the back of one 7” and one live EP. There's a natural backlash against Savages that believes they've had too much too soon, that all this is hype, that they sound like Siouxie Curtis etc blah blah. But they're just so abundantly not a hype band, despite looking and sounding amazing. If they were, the fact that the night was opened by a dance troupe would have been trumpeted via PR boosterage and ‘look at us aren’t we arty, lol’ rubbish. As it was, all the press got there too late to actually see it, and only hear tidings from the alternately perplexed and pleased audience members that did. It feels more in the vein of Wire’s infamous Document & Eyewitness performance in this venue three decades ago than indie flouncing.

Like Wire back then, Savages show no fear. The sound of a tolling bell fills the room, but gets quieter rather than loud. The band come onstage, but don't do anything until Jehnny Beth asks "are we fucking ready now? This is ‘Shut Up’." Savages’ sound is growing to fill the venues that they're playing, or they're just so in command of what they do that they know exactly what's appropriate, and when. A band of four personalities, their conversation - understanding but always tense - is just so. Take ‘City's Full’, and the welter of drums nicely reflected in Fay Milton’s flailing top knot, Ayse Hassan’s increasingly sturdy bass, flaying guitar from Gemma Thompson (you're at once whipped by barbs and leather) and gesticulation and tuneful horrorvocals from Jehnny.

My concern with Savages has always been that they'll be considered too derivative - not through their own fault, of course. Apparently you're front page and cover material if you're derivative of 2003's indie heroes but not, not ever, Bauhaus, Birthday Party or the Buttholes. Ah well, let's not let it bother us, just as it clearly doesn't bother Savages. All the backlighting and fog, the way that however essentially tuneful this is Jehnny's voice is over the top of it all high and uncompromising suggest they’re entirely confident in what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it.

A lot of bits get me going because they're akin to the romance of Suede's Dog Man Star re-imagined as Jazzmaster noise. With that in mind, on a track that might be Savages ‘Asphalt World’, after the vocals are done ringing around the room and all that's left are a few bits of bass and the odd drum, Jehn stands, gyrating a little in front of Gemma, drinking in the ferocity. Make no mistake, Gemma Thompson is one of the most exciting guitarists we have going right now.

‘Flying To Berlin’ might start conventional but it ends up Etch A Sketch, fragmentary and staccato. It's where Savages most remind me of British Sea Power, who gave them that first Brighton gig - aptly given the aviation-related nomenclature, it resembles the lunatic breakdowns of live outings of that band’s ‘Spirit Of St. Louis’.

After about an hour of music that goes to more new places than most new bands, Jehnny announces the final track with "Every fuckin’ fucking fucker you've ever met in your life... Go home with this...” The song might be called 'Don't Let The Fuckers Get You Down' - that's what Jehnny sings as she does her jogging thing, the drum and bass roll before gorgeous guitar smacks you around. It's so rare that such a slogan can sound as convincing as this and not contrived, as none of Savages’ music is contrived, and I think that if I was two decades younger and 14 again, this is the kind of band who could change my life, a means of liberation emotional and sexual, a way of life, that mere indie bands never are. As if on a cue, someone walks past in a Crass t-shirt. And then the bell starts tolling again, and Savages won't do an encore.

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