Words & Images by: Eric Zimmermann
Les Savy Fav :: 04.27.08 :: Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, CA
Tim Harrington lumbered on stage wearing a tie-dye shirt, a fringe leather jacket and a black ski mask. With his bandmates clad in muted t-shirts and jeans, the Les Savy Fav frontman stood out like, well, a guy wearing a tie-dye shirt and a fringe jacket.
The band was fresh off a blockbuster show at Coachella a few days earlier. Harrington, it was reported, climbed 30 feet up a lighting tower during the set. The Great American Music Hall is a bit more constrictive but Harrington did all he could to use every square inch, wading into the crowd and mounting speakers.
Recently reunited after a two year "hiatus," Les Savy Fav is touring in support of their latest album, Let's Stay Friends. Largely praised for its synthesis of melody and punk edge, the album is inventive without taking itself too seriously. "Have you been made dense from polish and pretense?" Harrington asks on opening track, "Pots and Pans." There was certainly no pretense at this show, and the only polish was the glisten on Harrington's baldhead as he showered himself in beer.
Harrington is notorious for his live antics, and this show was no exception. Spewing suds, sucking fans' fingers and using water bottles as not-so-subtle phallic symbols, Harrington provided a night of sinful debauchery set against the backdrop of piercing guitars and angsty, literate lyrics.
Les Savy Fav is a dichotomy: the mania of Harrington coupled with the studied precision of his four bandmates – guitarists Seth Jabour and Korey Guilbert, bassist Syd Butler and drummer Harrison Haynes. Harrington twitches, spasms and screams as the others pound out reliable, insistent punk riffs. This successful marriage of order and chaos is what defined the evening. For a concert, this is the best of both worlds – one needn't sacrifice a tight sound for an energetic vibe. "What Would The Wolves Do," for example, opened with a bright, reverberating guitar riff over a pulsating dance beat reminiscent of LCD Soundsystem. This cohesion descended into nihilistic glory about a minute into Harrington's vocals, when he offered perhaps the best possible distillation of the punk ethos ever: "The world may seem cruel / The world it may hate us / In time we will show the world why the world made us."
And Les Savy Fav is punk. Forget the qualifiers and modifiers for a moment – "art-punk," "post-punk," etc. Their arrangements might be more intricate and their lyrics more literate than Black Flag, for example, but when Harrington ripped off his shirt and spat beer into the front row, it was hard not to see Les Savy Fav as anything other than an inheritor of the hardcore mantle.
Les Savy Fav :: 04.27 :: GAMH
Harrington seems well aware of his cultural duty, valuing shock for the sake of shock. As the encore began, he reappeared wearing a karate uniform. Halfway through the song, the striptease began. "Once you take it off, all your shame is gone," he chanted, ad-libbing lyrics to "Rome" as he removed articles of clothing. The karate uniform fell away to uncover a tight black leotard, which was subsequently ripped off to reveal, well, Tim Harrington. Placing his ski-mask back on, he looked like something between a rapist and a bank robber.
The audience seemed to crave the disgust. Harrington turned the debauchery into a communal affair, handing the mic to front-rowers for back-up vocals, kissing fans of both sexes and, in the case of one lucky young lady, sucking her finger as she looked on with a mixture of amusement, hesitancy and glee. Meric Long of opening act The Dodos stumbled on stage for a trombone cameo. Long's youthful visage was a bit out of place amongst the gruff personas of Les Savy Fav but it was nevertheless refreshing to see someone genuinely happy to be producing music. Indeed, Long seemed a different person than the pensive brooder who opened the show with a shy though compact set of indie-pop. It was the first time he smiled all night.
Les Savy Fav falls squarely in the punk lineage but they are nothing if not unique. This combination of tradition and individuation is how music progresses. At the Great American the audience was treated to musicians who were both precise and carefree. People may have left the show ecstatic, disgusted or shocked but no one left disappointed. That is the mark of a great live act.
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