During the high point of a concert full of high points, Jehnny Beth rose up on the hands and shoulders of the audience at the 9:30 Club after walking out onto the crowd to belt out “Hit Me” from the Savages’ debut album, Silence Yourself.
After having kicked off her famously high heeled shoes, the lead singer of the post-punk quartet was born aloft by dozens of sturdy hands by admirers who readily followed her direction. Taking the opportunity to turn a combative track on its head, Jehnny asks the audience if they will catch her if she falls. The answer from the nearly sold-out house on Sunday night was an overwhelming “yes!” When she is done singing her verse, Jehnny crowd surfs back to the front of the club to return to the stage.
(I do want to mention that the only other artist I’ve seen literally walk out onto the crowd is DC’s own Ian Svenonius, who did so while he was fronting The Make Up at the Coachella Valley Music Festival in 2013.)
Charismatic, feminine, and bold, Jehnny Beth led her group of like-minded female rockers through 18 triumphant songs of soaring, blistering, and occasionally wry post-punk declarations of life, love, longing, lament, and laughs (even be they occasionally spiteful), drawn from that first album in 2013 and their sophomore full-length, Adore Life, released on Jan. 22 via Matador. At the 9:30 Club, Savages launched a 32-date North American tour that will take them through the aforementioned Coachella Music Festival (where I also saw them in 2013).
The band’s performance has been amazing so far — and although I am chatting a lot about Jehnny, this is a band where the individual members are essential. Savages require the sophisticated strings of guitarist Gemma Thompson, the dark anchor of bassist Ayse Hassan, and the thunderous gallop of drummer Fay Milton. Savages have put on a tremendous show, but it only gets better now going forward. After another nod to the first album (the excellent questions of identity in “No Face”), the band dives into the fierce pounding “T.I.W.Y.G.” — this is what you get when you mess with love! And Jehnny Beth is owning it as Fay drives the drums as surely, steadily, and thrillingly as if she were driving a car in a Grand Prix race.
Watch Savages perform “Evil,” a brilliant, rolling assault on complacency that features some amazing bass from Ayse Hassan, who is criminally under-discussed in my review, for the Los Angeles radio station KCRW on Feb. 2, 2016:
As the album Silence Yourself is indeed amazing, Savages have accomplished a rare feat with a better follow-up in Adore Life. The audience next willingly receives two of the best songs from that record: the lustful “Mechanics” and the spare, elegant “Adore,” a double shot of expressive vitality. At times, Jehnny presents herself as a punk poet, speaking plainly but in such a way that her manner of speech elevates every word she says. She’ll occasionally introduce a song with a declaration of “damn the torpedoes” or speak an opening line of a number like the smart prose that it is. (In these moments, it’s clear why the minimalist electronic improvisations of Angus Tarnawsky make for such a great opening act on the first leg of this tour. Read our review!)
As energetic as the entire show becomes, it is during these quieter, more thoughtful moments that Jehnny Beth reminds me the most of Siouxsie Sioux — deliberate, forward, and fearless.
I know I’m far from the first to make comparisons about the appearance, theatrics, and songcraft of the two women, but Savages fire a roaring flame into the heart of the kiln that birthed post-punk bands in the late ‘70s like The Banshees, The Cure, and even middle-era Depeche Mode. When I hear the clever and smart “Sad Person” from Savages (performed early in the set), I think of a similarly smart indictment of poor behavior in “Hong Kong Garden” from The Banshees; “She Will” from Savages (delivered sharply in the top third of the show) may contain foreboding echoes of desire similar to “Melt” from The Banshees.
Well, I’m being far too analytical here, as Savages certainly have a chemistry, an energy, all their own. Savages are nothing short of the best live band of the year, a result of carefully measured songwriting and finely honed performance. The long-play single “Fuckers,” which closes the Savages set, punctuates that sentiment. Jehnny exhorts the crowd to “not let the fuckers in life get you down” while Fay drones along in the background. The song is then awash in strings as Gemma weaves some gripping noise rock into the sound.
Savages continued their tour tonight, Tuesday, March 29, in Brooklyn and then travel across the country to end up in Portland on May 28. You absolutely must see them. Their songs are brilliant; their staging is chic; and their show is transcendent.
It is my hope that the rest of our pictures might give you a small taste of the power and poise found in a concert by Savages. (All photos by yours truly from the concert by Savages at the 9:30 Club on Sunday, March 27.)