What kind of band plays a gig at 8am?
Venue: 100 Club, London
Savages deliver thrilling wake-up call at special breakfast show
By 8am, the queue outside the 100 Club snakes alongside the shuttered shop-fronts on London’s Oxford Street and around the corner to nearby Berners Street. Every few minutes, an intrigued passer-by will approach an individual in the line and ask what’s going on. “Savages are playing” comes the response, one invariably met with a smile and a nod and a look of benign bewilderment. What kind of band plays a gig at 8am?
This isn’t, it should be noted, a standard Savages gig. Next month, the in-demand London four-piece will kick off a world tour incorporating stops at London’s 3,000 capacity Roundhouse, New York’s Irving Plaza and San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore theatre before hitting the festival circuit with appearances at Coachella, Primavera, Roskilde and Mexico City’s Vive Latino weekender, alongside the likes of The Prodigy and Baroness. This morning, they will be playing to just 350 fans, each of whom has purchased a copy of their new Adore Life album from Soho institution Sister Ray Records in order to gain admittance to this special, sold-out, one-off breakfast performance. The question of how the quartet’s music – intense, confrontational, perpetually challenging – will translate to a morning assembly is an intriguing one. But if there’s something delightfully incongruous about the sight of a smiling Jehnny Beth strolling onto the low stage of this storied subterranean sweatbox nursing a mug of coffee and greeting the expectant audience with a chirpy “Morning everyone!”, the 45 minutes which follows is emphatic proof that Savages’ fierce, unflinching art loses none of its impact or authority when removed from its natural nocturnal habitat.
Wikipedia’s description of Savages as a “post-punk revival” rock band is harshly reductive. While both 2013’s Silence Yourself and the newly released Adore Life unquestionably owe a debt to the likes of Joy Division, PiL, Killing Joke, the Birthday Party and Siouxsie and the Banshees, in a live setting the quartet’s songs are too electric, too raw, too imbued with fury and lust and heart and yearning to be dismissed as mere pastiche. This is music as a weapon, as a reclamation of that which truly matters, as an unstoppable doki doki rush of new day dawning optimism. In the newest manifesto on their website Savages write about evolution and metamorphosis, about recognising potential, about “opening-out and never, ever dying”, about living in the “now”. And when Gemma Thompson starts spraying shards of atonal, buckling, brutally distorted guitar over the viciously unrelenting locked-down grooves constructed by Ayse Hassan and Fay Milton on the likes of T.I.W.Y.G. or Husbands, Savages sound as thrillingly alive and vital as any band on the circuit.
Often portrayed as austere and aloof – a characterisation almost certainly rooted in the music industry’s confusion when confronted with artists who refuse to conform to its playbook – this morning Jehnny Beth is charm, wit and grace personified. Musing on the fact that a slightly delayed stage time may lead to audience members clocking in late for work, the singer notes “Everyone who’s here now is the coolest person in the office. ‘Why were you late? I was at the Savages gig…’” She’s a compelling, captivating performer, whether lunging with the mic like an elfin Henry Rollins (a vocal supporter of the group, whose narration of Phyllis Rose’s poem Jazz Cleopatra: Josephine Baker in Her Time accompanied an early promo teaser for Adore Life) on The Answer or holding the hushed room spellbound with the torch-song emotion of set closer Adore, perhaps Savages’ most likely ‘crossover’ hit-in-waiting. But, for all her star quality, the overwhelming impression of the band’s time on stage here is just what a close, unbreakable unit Savages are, as tightly bonded as the clenched fist held aloft for Adore Life’s stark artwork.
That Adore Life will likely debut in the UK Top 10 this Friday is a welcome reminder that there’s still a place for provocative, passionate, wilfully obdurate musicians at the forefront of the music scene. Back in 2013, when Savages previewed the Silence Yourself album with the release of Shut Up, Jehnny Beth refused to allow her record company to trim the track’s promo video of its powerful spoken word intro, declaring “If the goal is to reach a wider audience, then let's reach them as we are, not as they want us to be”, a statement which cuts to the core of everything this fiercely individualistic band do. This electrifying jolt of a gig is unlikely to usher in a new trend for sunrise rock gigs, but it’s a neat reminder that there are still bands taking on their world on their own terms. “Thanks for coming, I hope it was worth the pain,” says Beth in closing: the applause which follows might just be the loudest sound anyone here will hear today.