Words by: Sarah Hagerman | Images by: Manny Moss
The Hives & Eagles of Death Metal :: 09.16.08 :: Stubb's BBQ :: Austin, TX
Sometimes all you need is a heavy dose of good ol' fashioned balls to the walls rock 'n' roll. The kind that makes you dance wildly, jump with abandon, get rip roarin' drunk, possibly get injured, maybe, if you're lucky, get laid. There's something to be said for keeping things that bloody simple and it's a surprisingly novel concept today when you look at the glut of artsy, indie schmindie, alt-this or post-that bands. This sincere philosophy underlies both The Hives and Eagles of Death Metal, and I wonder why this hasn't been a co-bill sooner. Although quite fashionable during the height of the retro rock revival a few years back, Sweden's The Hives, like The White Stripes, have outlived most of their peers, largely due to their genuinely gripping live performances. Similarly, EODM look to '60s garage rock (not that infamous '70s FM band nor death metal) for their inspiration. But unlike a lot of recent groups that borrow liberally from the old school, The Hives and EODM both have a damn good time in front of an audience, stripping rock down to its ass kicking essentials, as was evidenced by this opening night of the tour at Stubb's BBQ.
EODM's frontman Jesse Hughes sports porn-star-worthy facial hair, and behind this mighty bristle comes stage banter soliciting "hallelujahs!" for the awesome power of rock and expressions of his love for the audience (especially those of us with two X chromosomes) – not to mention a wicked falsetto wail. EODM get love back. They were barely through the first song when a pair of panties flew on stage. "I done got me some underwear!" Hughes declared, brandishing the trophy. Later in the evening, a gal in a wee purple dress and some thigh high snakeskin boots jumped on stage to shake her thang. Hughes is quite the charmer, and he puts genuinely infectious joy and boisterous humor into the project. He makes it pretty damn clear that it wouldn't be a wham bam, thank you m'am affair – EODM want to get your fine self off real good.
This attitude is backed up by granite solid garage rock that recalls The Stones with touches of Motorhead mania and AC/DC grind. EODM understand that you can make folks laugh without being a total joke yourself. It's a very fine line, and they strut all over it by keeping the songs hooky and grungy and performing the shit out of them. Brian O'Connor's bass shuffle and the pulse heightening beatings of touring drummer Gene Trautmann (Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age is the usual drummer, and the second half of EODM in the studio) set down an impressive driving rhythm. The rollicking "I Gotta Feeling (Just Nineteen)" would be a perfect speeding soundtrack, preferably in a Camaro, and sing-along "I Want You So Hard (Boys Bad News)" inspired audience whoops and fists a-pumpin' in time. New material, from up-coming album Heart On, which they played live for the first time according to Hughes, seems to be a continuation of that excellent mission. I kept thinking of that Lester Bangs essay "James Taylor Marked for Death," where he describes The Troggs' music as "groin thunder." EODM's spirit is pure rock & roll groin thunder, grinning with sincerity and flipping the bird to pretension.
A bit of a breather was necessary before the vicious assault of The Hives. Opener "Hey Little World" was brutally fast, and threw us all in the deep end from the get-go. Frontman Howlin' Pelle Almqvist, speaking his own version of English, explained (and I'm paraphrasing slightly), "Our equipment was confiscated by your customs as weapons of mass destruction, but thanks to your relaxed drug laws we can now attack you with rock & roll music!" Borrowed weaponry and all, they blew that stage up with napalm-soaked rock & roll, their searing punk and disco thrash edge translating into much less panty-throwing and much more crowd surfing and pogoing in the front.
Surrounded by the band, whose trademark matching suit jackets were all shed by the end, Almqvist was almost impossible to keep your eyes off at any given moment. He skittered and scissor kicked across the stage, springing on top of the speakers, throwing his mic dizzingly high in the air at times, but always managing to catch it. Similarly to Hughes, he has a riotously fun and hilarious stage presence that riles the crowd into a frenzy.
Sharp, quick and incredibly taut, and like The Stooges, roughly polished, The Hives produce a cathartic burst that spring coils forth from that stage with tunes you still find yourself humming days later. I haven't quite been able to get "Try It Again" out of my head since this show. The energy and enthusiasm of the band, particularly drummer Chris Dangerous and guitarist Nicholas Arson, propelled the show forward at a breakneck pace. When they came out for the encore, Almqvist maintained that they were eluding the police, and with the strict curfew at Stubb's they could have been right. As the band tore through their last few songs, with Almqvist hitting the stage with his mic in time with the thumping bass, I was shocked at how quickly this whole show seemed to have gone by, and realized I had been sucked into the dangerous momentum.
I walked out of Stubb's, ears buzzing, a believer in the refreshing purity of rock again. Hallelujah indeed.
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