Savages – Terminal 5, New York, NY 10/16/13

As a loyal listener to the long-running Sound Opinions podcast, I’ve heard co-host Jim DeRogatis rave on and on about Savages, for the better part of a year now. His hagiographic odes to the all female London quartet have interspersed themselves into much of the show’s dialogue as he takes no hesitation in his praise for the band’s passionate ferocity and all-encompassing post-punk spirit. DeRogatis is far from the only critic singing their praises, as various blogs and those in the know have also been continuously slinging out ringing endorsements, both for the band’s starkly textured rhythmic album tracks and for their pummeling live intensity. As the band wound down their tour with a headlining show at New York City’s cavernous Terminal 5, I finally got my chance to check out all the fuss for myself.

And it seems, that for the most part, that fuss is justified. The 90-minute set was just as much about showmanship and atmosphere as it was about the music. Singer Jenny Beth stalked the stage with commanding authority, constantly jabbing at the air, twirling her hips, and swinging her arms back and forth as she visibly forced those of us in the audience to hang onto her every word and motion. Like a seasoned stage actor, Beth proved nearly impossible to take your eyes off of. From her snarling and dervishly delivered lines (“Don’t worry about breaking my heart/Far bigger things will fall apart”, she deliriously warbled in set highlight “No Face”) to her rhythmic Ian Curtis-esque head bobs, to her triumphant stage dives and crowd surfs at the show’s end, Beth absolutely owned the room.

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Not to be outdone, guitarist Gemma Thompson and bassist Ayse Hassan flanked Beth, serving as the anchors in the midst of the tempest, framing her words and motions with starkly jangled precision and efficiency. The wild card of the group was drummer Fay Milton, who thunderously packed a ferocious punch from the back of the stage and served as a mirror reflection of Beth’s energy, with her arms and drumsticks raised high in the air; long hair flying free and wild and constantly twirling around as she pounded out the backbeats. The songs were succinct and direct, and save for a Suicide cover and two rollicking non-album tracks, stuck to the basics void of any extended jams or long improvisations. However, like on the album, the songs seemed filled to capacity, packed with more emotion and burn than would seem possible for 4-5 minute lengths.

An appealing aspect of Savages is the fact that they can pull off a show this spellbinding without the use of stage props and gimmicks. The design was all very austere, with the four ladies dressed in all black, gathered on a stage cleared of all elements but the musical necessities. As the warning signs posted around the venue warned, pretty intense strobe lights flashed throughout, but these effects brought attention to the band, rather than distracting from it. The set wasn’t flawless, as some of the mid-tempo numbers forced things into a bit of a mid-set lull. Additionally, Beth’s persona can occasionally evoke memories of old Saturday Night Live “Sprockets” skits, but for the most part, my eyes remained glued to the stage, and my ears rang with the sonic attack. As we’ve seen with some of Savages’ kindred spirits like Swans and Siouxee and The Banshees, it’s possible to maintain this level of intensity in a live show, so it’ll be interesting to see whether Beth, Thompson, Hassan, and Milton will choose to stay true to this ethos with their next steps. Regardless of what the future holds, though, Savages circa 2013, is a live band worthy of attention and notice.

Setlist:

I Am Here

City’s Full

Shut Up
I Need Something New

Strife

Waiting For A Sign

Marshal Dear (w/Duke Garwood sitting in)

Dream Baby Dream (Suicide Cover)

She Will

No Face

Hit Me

Husbands

Fuckers

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2 Responses

  1. Jeff — It’s only hagiography if you’re building someone up who does not deserve the accolades; otherwise, it’s enthusiasm. But glad you dug the show, and thank you for listening to “Sound Opinions”!

    1. Jim! I hear ya on those points. I think we’ll be writing and talking about Savages for many years to come. Thanks for reading and for all your work on the show!

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