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Savages at Baby’s All Right, New York, New York, January 29th, 2015

Jan 31, 2015 Savages Bookmark and Share

A Savages concert is confrontational in a way that’s impossible to distance yourself from. Rock audiences are used to being sneered at, harangued, and stared down. Most of the time these days we all just go through the motions of confronting and being confronted. After 30 plus years of punk and post-punk performance, it’s become a schtick, but Savages frontwoman Jehnny Beth has an approach that makes the idea of audience/performer confrontation newly meaningful.

At 1am, she began the final night of the London quartet’s de facto three-week residency (dates were added as shows kept selling out) at Williamsburg Brooklyn venue Baby’s All Right by asking the audience “Are you good? Really, really good?” She sounded honestly interested.

During the first song “City’s Full” off their debut Silence Yourself she bobbed and weaved around the front of the stage searching out faces in the dark as she sang. She seemed to ask herself from beat to beat: “Are they going to get it? Are they getting it?”

Pale and thin, with dark hair and huge eyes, she has tremendous presence and an unnerving amount of physical control and clarity of intent. As a performer, she is using it to tear down the imaginary wall between the band and the fans simply by being so present and engaged, so obviously aware of the other people in the room that you can’t get away with disengaging. The barrier dissolves. There’s nowhere to hide. Probably not many people have won staring contests with her.

Musically, Savages have a lot in common with the unraveled song structures of Wire, or, for a more current reference, Screaming Females. Jehnny Beth’s clear voice has power like that of Screaming Female’s Marissa Paternoster but her feral vibrato is really more reminiscent of Television’s Tom Verlaine-like and the band evokes both Television, with Gemma Thompson’s pointed guitar salvos, and Screaming Females, with Ayse Hassan’s thundering bass lines. The hardest thing about the band to find a comparison for is Fay Milton’s drumming, which is as precise as it is strikingly emotive. Their focus and intensity compares well with Electrelane.

Their unpredictable blasts of noise and Kraut-inspired drones and rock ‘n’ roll riffs clash and sometimes blend into a stadium-flattening roar. It makes a passionate backdrop for the Orwellian noir of the lyrics.

In concert, their music’s austere tendencies are mitigated by the sheer excitment of seeing them play live. Between songs Jehnny Beth remarked “These three weeks have been so much fun but it’s not over yet.” They really did seem to be having an enormous amount of fun, playing together like one very loud machine – hurtling in the direction of Jehnny Beth’s stare, fueled by an audience that rocked back and forth like metronomes, broke out in fits of chaotic dancing and shouted along with the catchy parts. By the middle of their set the rhythm section had basically fused.

Several times the women went for flat broke, surely killing themselves, surely about to close out the set, but they kept going. “Are we making you happy?” the singer asked, maybe starting to get tired. The audience shouted back an affectionate affirmative. “That’s all the counts,” she said.

The music is hypnotic and euphoric by turns but Savages is not a band to let you just space out and groove. During one break between songs Jehnny Beth gently coaxed “Let me see your faces. Closer, come closer. From the back. No more fear.” The purpose was actually to get closer to the crowd but her solicitousness kind of gave you the creepy crawlies, making that particular ritual many times more fun than it usually is.

During this residency they played a few new songs, one of which contains the refrain “Is it human to adore life?” As the bass and drums receded to almost nothing Jehnny Beth repeated the phrase several times at varying intervals while scanning the crowd. Vibes built up slowly as the crowd started to quiet down. Finally, they felt it and started to shout and freak out. She flashed a quick smile, mostly to herself. They got it. They were getting it.



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