words and photography Bobby Cochran
August 25, Great American Music Hall (San Francisco). A lot of modern bands seem to be looking to the past for a sound or a vibe that lends some sense of authenticity or credence, but often end up aping a certain sound, or being so derivative that they have no honest voice. Nothing that makes them anything more than karaoke versions of great bands from the past. Savages might give a wink and a nod to early 80’s post-punk music, but they launch themselves with a furious sound that is both unique and original, lifting their proverbial head and shoulders above the crowd of black-clad hipsters that attempt originality and fail.
I was eager to see Savages for my first time tonight, having only caught wind of them in the last year or so. Vocalist Jehnny Beth struck me the first time I saw her… a petite woman with cropped hair in tight black clothes both provocative and understated, her unwavering gaze on the audience, balancing on high heels, spoiling for a fight. The rest of the band rumbled behind her, urgent and cohesive. I wanted to see them play live immediately. Now, finally, here I was.
There was no scheduled opening band, which sounded great to me. A night of just us, and Savages. There was, however, a DJ set to open. I’m not exactly sure of the thought behind this, but it happened nevertheless. The music was pretty decent, actually (if you like quasi-neuveau-industrial goth), but the audience was restless and the music seemed to go on for a bit too long.
This made the eventual appearance of Savages onstage a sweet relief. They roared in, full-throttle, sounding just as solid and tight as they do on record. Jehhny Beth took charge immediately, keeping everyone’s attention fully. Guitarist Gemma Thompson coaxed and scraped distorted reverb screeches from her guitar that evoked and also paid homage to Daniel Ash while also maintaining a sound uniquely her own.
The audience seemed timid, unusually so, I thought. I expected a rush to the stage and at least some rowdy shoving. Folks barely moved. To be fair, it was obvious people were stoked to see them, but I felt the music deserved some bodily motion. The band charged through a few songs we all knew from their debut album, then went into a set of new music, none of which any of us seemed familiar with. I read about their residence at the St. Vitus club in NYC this past winter, where they woodshedded this new music in front of an audience. Their confidence in the new music was apparent, and it definitely seemed to me that they’d been living inside these songs for a good while. One of the new ones was introduced by Jehnny as a song she’d begun during their last visit to San Francisco in 2013. She told us this song was because of us.
They moved steadily through the set, maintaining a steady clip, bouncing between new and old songs, culminating with Jehnny’s foray into the audience, held aloft by the people’s hands, sans heels, sweaty and triumphant. Her words a provocation and an invocation under the pulse of the music, with the band holding back, ready to strike.
And strike they did. Brilliant.
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