Savages at First Avenue, 9/17/13

Savages at First Avenue, 9/17/13
Photo By Steve Cohen

With Duke Garwood
First Avenue, Minneapolis
September 17, 2013

Savages' name only hints at their musical intensity. The London-based quartet rolled through Minneapolis on a dreary, drizzly night that must have made them feel quite at home, and delivered a 75-minute set building on the brilliance of their premiere at Triple Rock two months ago. The fervent post-punk group provided a few new twists to a set that still drew mainly from their Mercury Prize-nominated debut, Silence Yourself, and while some of those extra vocal and sonic flourishes were spellbinding, others came off as mere padding to a taut, tension-fueled performance that really didn't need any ancillary additions.

See Also: Savages' Jehnny Beth: John Cassavetes is one of my biggest influences

Taking the stage while the pre-show dubstep faded away, the four women of Savages were dressed in their traditional all-black, with singer Jehnny Beth's red pumps providing the only splash of color on the spartan, minimalistic stage set. They launched into the brazen ferocity of "I Am Here," and they weren't going anywhere. A hard-charging version of "City's Full" kept the strong start going, as Gemma Thompson's edgy guitar washed over the crowd, while the dynamic rhythm of bassist Ayse Hassan and drummer Fay Milton were on point all evening long.

Beth squatted ominously on the edge of the stage, and riled up the crowd by asking, "Did you tell me to shut up, or did you tell me to shut it?" It served as an insidious introduction to "Shut Up," which built to an assured, fiery end. "The last time we played here it was in a small club, the Triple Rock," Beth announced. "That was fucking awesome." And while the intimacy of that show probably won't ever be matched, Savages have grown more comfortable on stage, and adventurous with their performance, which gave songs that already had plenty of bite to them even more of a powerful sting.

Savages at First Avenue, 9/17/13
Savages at First Avenue, 9/17/13
Photos By Steve Cohen

"I Need Something New" featured Beth delivering some free-verse extemporization over the band's simmering arrangements, as she sneered, "I'm trying to meditate, I'm trying to procreate." She kicked the air triumphantly, and the song eventually exploded in discord. "Strife" really ignited the middle portion of the set, with Milton providing a smooth, rhythmic transition to the slow-burning start of the song before it built to its dramatic, cacophonous end.

"Strife" was so good, in fact, that the band needed to slow things down just a bit with a pulsing, brooding take on "Waiting for a Sign," which gradually blossomed toward its elegant conclusion. In fact, just as the song ended, Beth's microphone eerily dropped from its stand, crashing to the ground just as the band stopped playing, prompting her to admit, "There is a spirit in the room."

Now that the band and the crowd had caught their collective breath, Savages hit us with a flurry of riotous, unrestrained tracks that took the set to new heights. Their debut single, "Flying to Berlin," still cracks with a vibrant ferocity, with the band twisting the track in new sonic directions after years of sculpting it to their liking. But as fantastic as "Berlin" was, it merely served as a boisterous precursor to "She Will," which burned with a seditious ferocity, sparked by Beth's strident vocals and the flickering strobe lights.

Savages at First Avenue, 9/17/13
Savages at First Avenue, 9/17/13
Photos By Steve Cohen

An emphatic version of "No Face" quickly followed, with the band really stretching things out during the track's lengthy outro, transitioning from a bluesy, Sabbath-like doom to flat-out punk fury over the course of a few minutes. "Hit Me" proved to be a real showstopper, with Beth tentatively asking the crowd, "Can I be honest with you?" before launching into a submissive manifesto filled with lines like, "I was in a place where I wanted to be thrown up against the wall, because I'm a dirty little dog. I want to be smacked. You must put me on my leash, bare naked with my legs shaking. Hit me!" But rather than coming off as a track fueled by aggression and domination, the song showed that Beth was clearly the one in control of the situation, provoking the audience with her bold delivery and salacious subject matter, while peeling back the curtains of people's perversions and turning it into art.


The band eased into "Husbands" a bit, with Beth prowling the stage, testing to see if the crowd was still with her. "Are you ready?" she asked, before the song truly kicked in. "Oh yeah? Here it comes," and indeed the song detonated, with Beth screaming the chorus atop Thompson's spiraling, blazing guitar strains. They brought out a keyboard for the next number, which Beth settled into as she introduced opener Duke Garwood to those in the crowd who didn't show up early for his set. Garwood added a rich, drony saxophone to the piano-laden "Marshal Dear," which the band have just started playing live within their past few shows. And while the somber song didn't have the fervency of the rest of the set, it was compelling to see the band take their sound in a new, exciting direction.

Savages at First Avenue, 9/17/13
Photo By Steve Cohen

Garwood stayed on stage, and was joined by Beth's boyfriend, Johnny Hostile, who provided textured guitar strains throughout the set closer, "Fuckers," which Beth introduced as she sat confidently on an amp at the front of the stage, "This song is called 'Fuckers.' This is for all you motherfuckers. I have a friend who once left a note on my fridge. It said, 'Don't let the fuckers get you down.'" The track gradually built to a free-jazz freakout, with Beth playing the role of the mad conductor as the rest of the band built up a cacophonous wall of noise that stretched on a bit self-indulgently, before coming to an end precisely at 10:30 p.m.

But again, Savages were attempting new things, even while their fans are still trying to process the blistering, imaginative sounds found on their debut. But at the end of their thrilling, triumphant set at First Ave, Savages proved that they are most assuredly THE band of the moment, and it's up to us to try to keep up with them as they convincingly take modern music forward.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: I'll admit, I've fallen pretty hard for Savages. I've been waiting for some music with this type of inspired edge for a while now.

The Crowd: A diverse mix of younger kids (one in the front row who Beth talked with briefly was only 10 years old) and older punks who want to see what direction Savages are taking their music in.

Overheard In The Crowd: "It's been a long time since I've seen something that fucking rock 'n' roll."

Random Notebook Dump: Savages have dropped their live staple, "Give Me a Gun," from their recent setlists (including on this evening at First Ave), perhaps out of respect for those who died in the Washington, D.C. tragedy.


I Am Here

City's Full

Shut Up

I Need Something New


Waiting for a Sign

Flying to Berlin

She Will

No Face

Hit Me


Marshal Dear (with Duke Garwood)

Fuckers (with Duke Garwood and Johnny Hostile)

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