All words: Travis Andrews — All photos: Shauna Alexander
Hanging above and behind the stage tonight is an enormous black and white photo of a demonic looking man holding marionette strings (really ribbons that drift onto the stage from his fingers). The implications are obvious: he’s controlling the Hives, a Swedish rock band I haven’t thought about too much since “Hate to Say I Told You So” was popular. That was back when The Hives, The Vines and The White Stripes were supposedly the saviors of Rock n Roll.
Hard to say if Rock n Roll was saved or not. This year, two of my three favorite albums were rock albums: The Men’s Open Your Hearts and Fucked Up’s eardrum-crushing and beautifully layered David Comes to Life. But are these the Rock n Roll heralded they were back then?
Not that anyone knows or really cares, especially here where the entire stage set-up—especially that photo—has the feeling of an elaborate joke. Who it’s on remains the question, as I attempt to figure out exactly what makes up a Hives audience. Most of the crowd is male, I think, but aside from that, there isn’t much to discern. That guy’s got a t-shirt that says “Beer Nuts,” that guy’s got a Rolling Stones shirt on and that guy’s in a polo with an equally preppy girlfriend.
Not that it matters; the energy in here is fantastic. I’m becoming giddy at the thought of the coming show, even though I haven’t listened to the band in years. I should probably be rip-roaring drunk, prepared to mosh and yell with Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist. But I’m old now — all of 24 — and I’ve got work in the morning. Maybe this is circumstantial proof that Rock n Roll wasn’t saved: maybe if it had been, I’d be prepared to slog through tomorrow in a half-dreaming daze with nothing but faded memories of this show.
IT BEGINS. Lights are cut, and cinematic piano line, reminiscent of Jaws, has taken residence in the club. A drum line, and the band is here, and all five members are dressed to the nines in tails and top hats. Yep, this is going to be fun.
Opener: “Come on.”
Lyrics of Opener: “Everybody come on.”
Old Howlin’, our front man, is already at it, wind milling the mic around, tossing it to the ground and having it pop back up, offering full jackknife kicks into the air, and making one thing immediately clear: This is the funnest band I’ve seen in a long while.
Someone dressed as a ninja has joined them on stage and is playing the shakable instruments while the drummer tosses one of his sticks twenty feet in the air and expertly nabs it.
The Hives are loud as hell, which should be expected, and while the music isn’t dynamic, no one here is going for that. Our man Howlin’ will later call himself the “best fucking frontman in history,” and no one argues. He jokes between most songs, and he’s hilarious. Some excerpts:
“It’s top hat and tails Tuesday! Where are your top hats and tails? At the cleaners?”
“Everyone jump up and down while we play you our song ‘Walk, Idiot, Walk.’”
“This one is about the fact that our time is coming, and it’s called ‘Our Time is Coming.’”
[Following a USA chant that he inspires] “Yeah, yeah, USA. Everybody just stop. Everyone knows who you are. You’re fucking everywhere.”
[After explaining that he woke up early due to jet lag] “That’s all I got to say about that. I’m just trying to give you some insight in what it’s like to be a fucking Rock n Roll star!”
“English is your first language. It’s my second. What the fuck am I talking about?”
“What have you fine people been doing without with The Hives in your life?”
“Who here is a Hives virgin?”
“You don’t want to be quiet at The Hives concert.”
Rarely do you hear someone talk about his band in the third person as often, plus I’ve never seen a front man stand on a tom tom before, much less while wearing tails and a top hat. The band’s hilariously clean-cut too: they could be on their way to a white house function (as caterers). Pelle knows how to work the crowd too; at one point HE MANAGES TO GET EVERYONE AT THE 9:30 CLUB TO SIT DOWN. He and the band do a freeze-frame during “Tick Tick Boom,” and they don’t move for at least 45 seconds.
And then there’s the long diatribe that leads up to The Song. The one everyone is here to see, and he’s up there pretending like they’re out of songs. Then, “It’s your birthday. I know just what to give you for your birthday. We’re from the old world, and we bring you a gift.”
The room’s an orgy when they begin “Hate To Say I Told You So,” and it’s hard to imagine more unadulterated joy in one place among so many people.
Have they saved Rock n Roll? Have they created something artistic and beautiful and complex? Is the joke on them or on us or more likely on us and we know it and we’re playing into it?
None of this matters, because thinking is not something you’re supposed to do at The Hives concert, which has been by far, hands down, the most fun concert I’ve ever been to in my life.