Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Hives Break Out a Rashly Thunderous Performance, with Plenty of Cleverly Creative Fun -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

The Hives
with Fidlar and Flesh Lights
The Vic Theatre, Chicago
June 30, 2012

It's unfair to the Hives that I probably hold the Vines and the Strokes against them.

Not that the latter two bands didn't have their moments, as obviously did the White Stripes, who were also part of the garage rock revival that reared its head in the year 2000.

But with the other "revival" bands now extinct or running on fumes, I can't say I've given the Hives much thought in recent years.

Although I bought 2000's Veni Vidi Vicious and 2004's Tyrannosaurus Hives around their release, I completely ignored 2007's The Black & White Album--which my friend Dave feels is the Hives' best album--and only knew about the recently released Lex Hives and the band's Chicago appearance because of Dave.

But in catching them at the Vic with Dave, after familiarizing myself with Lex Hives, I was reminded of what a fun and ferocious band the Hives remain. And though this was my first time seeing them live, I feel safe in suggesting that few rock acts--especially at the club or small theater level--give as much thought to putting on a performance (rather than just a rag tag rock show) than does the Swedish quintet.

As you can see in the photo above and the video at bottom, The Hives took the stage in top hats and tails, with a backdrop suggesting they were controlled by a puppeteer.

But while the band's coordinated costuming is a fun touch and the hyper-loquacious Howlin' Pelle Almqvist is a fantastic frontman, what really makes it all work is the music. Nearly all of The Hives' tunes have a similar frenetic energy, and 90 minutes of it was certainly adequate, but though the set was heavy on songs from Lex Hives, the potent live renditions further showed that the new album is packed with gems. (The setlist from the Vic isn't yet up on, but was similar to this one.)

New tunes like "Come On!," "Go Right Ahead," "Wait a Minute" and "Patrolling Days" sounded great, as did older ones such as "Main Offender," "Tick Tick Boom" and "Hate To Say I Told You So."

Almqvist provided engaging banter between each song, and while this is part of what made the show so fun, I thought that at least a couple of times he should have muzzled himself and let the band roll from one song to the next, Ramones style. Sometimes Howlin' Pelle couldn't help but get in his own way.

Yet even though there wasn't much in the way of stylistic variance, everything the Hives played sounded terrific. Almqvist's brother, Niklas, one of the band's two guitarists, provided the only other real focal point, as despite their matching uniforms--which were peeled off throughout the sweaty show--the rest of the band largely kept to the background.

But that was fine, as Howlin' Pelle hogged the spotlight like Mick Jagger or Steven Tyler on amphetamines. The end result was one of the best shows I've seen this year, and one of the most impressive in recent memory by an artist I had never seen before. It sounds strange to say--intentionally, of course--but if you can catch the Hives, you really should.

Two bands opened the show, starting with a trio called Flesh Points from Austin, TX. They were impressive in their aggression and volume, but the lack of obvious melody in their songs reminded me how special bands like The Ramones, The Clash, Husker Du, Nirvana and Green Day were in their ability to blend noise and speed with enjoyable ear candy. Second band, Fidlar, from L.A. showed they had a nice gift for melody and harmony, but too much so in the service of silliness. They sang of cheap beer, getting high and being wasted while the singer spoke of partying and rolled around on the stage. To his credit, he noted that just a few weeks ago his band was playing at house parties, but perhaps they should have toned down the dumb to better capitalize on a nice opening slot.

Speaking of opening, here's a video I found on YouTube of how the Hives took the stage, with most of their first song, "Come On!"

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