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Savages

Every year the Twin Cities benefits from Pitchfork Music Festival being in Chicago when several of the bands add a stop on their way to or from Chicago.  This year that meant the first local date for the ferocious post punk buzz band of the moment Savages.

The show was at the 400 person capacity Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis, and sold out so quickly (despite shows at the Triple Rock selling out rarely enough that a sign on the door announced “Tonight’s show is completely sold out.  Seriously.”) that a return date has already been added at the 1,500 capacity First Avenue Mainroom in September.  If you read nothing else of this review, read this: See them now before the rooms get even bigger.

Opening for the band was Johnny Hostile, Savages’ producer, co-founder, with Savages’ lead singer Jehnny Beth, of their Pop Noire label, and longtime boyfriend of Beth.  Going in, I was expected experimental Frenchman with a guitar, but what I got was a much, much darker experimental Frenchman with a bass and drum machine.  Far too often opening acts can get lost in the noise of late arriving crowds, but that was not a concern in this case.  Hostile takes the low end darkness of the Factory bands and adds vocals reminiscent of Red Mecca era Cabaret Voltaire to create a pulsing doom that utterly filled the small room.  More importantly, though, his sound was the rare instance where an opening act actually felt a part of the show as a whole and was the perfect mood setter for what was to come.  The only real issue was the lack of variation in sound (even with being joined by Savages’ guitarist Gemma Thompson for one song and Jehnny Beth for another) causing a bit of monotony towards the end of the set.  At only about a half hour, though, this is a minor quibble.

From the moment Johnny Hostile finished, the anticipatory tension in the room started to ramp up (aided largely by the constant feedback that ebbed and flowed throughout the break) for the band that has received nothing but rave reviews for their live performance.  Savages did not disappoint.  The word that kept running through my mind during the set was visceral.  All four women (who are even more petite than I realized.  Seriously, I’m six feet tall and when drummer Fay Milton walked by me prior to the show she barely came up to my chest) came out in black and absolutely pummeled the audience with sound.  Jehnny Beth prowled the stage staring down the audience in a half crouch (aided by a microphone stand set between 6″ and a foot lower than her full height) as if daring anyone to take their eyes off her.  Some in the audience were a little too into her and stuck their phones directly into her face, despite the quickly becoming ubiquitous sign asking people to keep their phones in their pockets.  The first violators simply got their phones slapped down.  The last saw Jehnny Beth take it and flip it behind her on stage (the phone’s owner did get it back after the show).  Meanwhile, Thompson, Milton, and bassist Ayşe Hassan put their heads down and thundered at their instruments.  It was post punk, both musically and visually, at its absolute finest.  The set was short (about an hour) and mostly came from Silence Yourself, but was so powerful I don’t know that the audience could have taken much more.  “She Will” in particular was an absolute highlight.  Perhaps my favorite moment, however, came at the end when the band refused to engage in the ‘encore’ farce.  Savages took the stage, played their 12 song set ending with “Husbands”, and were done.  It was wonderful, even if the crowd was a little confused at the lack of an ‘encore’.

Savages is a band that seriously lived up to the hype, and I can’t recommend seeing them more highly.  There is a very good chance I’ll be in the audience again in September.


An author and editor at MiG, Craig lives in Minnesota with his wife and son and is an attorney in his real life. Once upon a time Craig played the trumpet and spent four years in the Hawkeye Marching Band and pep band. These days Craig finds himself most often listening to experimental rock, hip hop, and post punk, but you can see everything he's listening to at: www.last.fm/user/cafreema Craig is not ashamed to admit the first concert he ever attended was New Kids on the Block.
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