SELMA REZGUI reviews female rock group Savages’s latest gig at the O2 Academy Brixton.
Erupting onto London’s music scene in 2011 in the hope of injecting some much needed vitality, Savages’s impact has only grown. Their debut album, Silence Yourself, was released in 2012 to widespread acclaim, demonstrating a new, post-punk tinged sound seething with clipped vocals and powerful basslines. Its follow-up, Adore Life, was released earlier this year and saw a widening of their musical scope, confirming that this is a band with far more to offer than shrieking intensity. Singer and frontwoman Jehnny Beth’s vocals are deeper and more varied on this record. The title track reveals in particular a sense of potent emotion that was not there in their debut, which (though exhilarating) is saturated with an indignant rage that leaves room for little else.
The titles of both albums demand something of the listener, and at Savages’s live shows it is clear who takes charge. Their 2013 shows were accompanied by a sign commanding fans to ‘silence your phones’ and surrender themselves to the moment. ‘Our goal is to discover better ways of living and experiencing music,’ read the stark black letters. Three years on, Savages are still achieving just that. They enter the stage to Leonard Cohen’s ‘Recitation’, a small but poignant gesture of mourning and respect to the late giant of poetry and song-writing. Once positioned, though, they launch immediately – and with little preamble – into the fuzzy, harshly reverberating opening bars of ‘I Am Here’, setting an exhilarating precedent for the hour to come.
Savages are a band of angles, and onstage in the Brixton Academy they arrange themselves in a four-pointed formation. Jenny Beth is the focal point, a pillar of towering, glowering androgyny; her suit jacket is as sharp as the parting of her hair, and the points of her (quickly abandoned) red heels. Either side of her, Gemma Thompson and Ayse Hassan (guitarist and bassist respectively), frame her, with drummer Fay Milton providing a dynamic counterpoint – slightly raised towards the back of the stage. Their set consists of a fairly even mix of their older material with tracks from this year’s record, and though the first few tracks are enthusiastically received by the audience, there is a tangible sense of the band coming into their element as they launch into Silence Yourself’s lead single, ‘Husbands.’ The energy that has been slowly building reaches its summit and the crowd explodes into action, a seething mass that moves as one and whose many arms reach up in unison towards Jehnny Beth as she, messiah-like, walks across the sea of bodies.
‘This is a song about being absolutely furious… furious with rage,’ announces Beth, before Savages play their searing cover of Marianne Faithful’s ‘Why’d Ya Do It’. Yet although the band are indeed characterised by fury, they are at their most affecting during moments of tenderness, demonstrated in the chilling acapella opening to ‘I Need Something New’. ‘Adore’ heralds a change of tone, its uncharacteristically bombastic crescendo contrasting with the relentless drive of tracks like ‘T.I.W.Y.G.’ Again, Beth mingles effortlessly with the crowd, letting herself be carried but never losing control. Remarkably, she never once compromises her performance, and the rest of the band dutifully provide a watertight base for her vocal and physical gymnastics. Her periodic returns to the stage in order to deliver the song’s wailing emotional climax confirm her unrivalled showmanship.
Savages’s ability to perform slower songs brilliantly as well as staying true to their uncompromising punk identity is testament to their musical skill. They hammer home the most uncompromising songs in their repertoire with rapid ferocity. Milton is especially energetic as they play ‘Sad Person’ and ‘City’s Full’, while Hassan’s motorik bass and comparatively low-key stage antics serve to ground the rest of the band’s dynamic vitality. Thompson comes into her own during Adore Life’s closing track ‘Mechanics’. She ekes feedback-laden, expansive tones from her guitar with steely concentration, and for once the crowd is momentarily distracted from Jehnny Beth’s magnetic pull.
The set closer ‘F*ckers’ is a triumphant middle finger to bigotry and adversity, a sentiment that the crowd can once again fully endorse. It is the perfect, anarchic finale to a set that has cemented Savages as one of the most exciting and unique live acts around. There is no one else like them.