London sensation SAVAGES crept up on many by surprise. We were there for the unforgettable Fuhrer Bunker gig last May where the foursome blasted open the eyes and ears of the limited number of Mancunians who were able to squeeze into the now famed venue housing the iconic wooden caged stage.
We happen to pass lead singer Jehnny Beth in the streets of Liverpool a few hours before their set at LIVERPOOL SOUND CITY popup Art Academy stage. The sound engineer says a friendly hi, while Jehn characteristically hides under her hood. But nothing surprises us about this band any more – they have a set persona they’ve worked at, so it’s best to take everything with a pinch of salt. It’s all an act, as they say. Those members of the press who haven’t figured that out may be prone to overacting to the machinations of this four-piece band who in industry terms are still ‘young.’ All four members have varied experiences of making music and being in bands, but it seems on all accounts that this is the first time that they are achieving something akin to commercial status. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though – they are just squeezing out their first album together, “Silence Yourself.” There’s still a long road ahead for Jehnny Beth, Ayse Hassan, Gemma Thompson and Fay Milton.
The Art Academy is packed all the way to the back as whistles and shouts resound around. We spot the band’s printed out notice asking the audience to refrain from reaching for their smartphones to shoot the show (we later hear that someone took out their iPad during this show – brave).
A bell toll sounds out as the band walk onto the stage. Jehn’s casually dressed in dark trousers and a dark jumper hiding a white-polka-dot shirt, while Gemma’s suited up and the rest of the band are suitably matched. Jehn greets the crowds with a simple “Hello, you. This is Savages” and we’re thrust straight into “City’s Full” with Gemma’s pained guitar riffs, Ayse’s steady bass (yes, her eyes are already closed in utter peace) and Fay lifts up her sticks into the air threatening the drums as she slams her hands down.
Within a minute, you can see how honed this band have become, to the point where I’m actually beginning to miss their raw energy in the earlier days. Is there any such thing as too much perfection? The stage is for sure too far away from the crowds (massive photo pit), which is a shame because it’s making it harder for this reticent high-energy band to reach the people. The distance gives an unexpected sensation of theatre, rather than a live gig.
“I am here” which ends with an intense instrumental crescendo and Jehn’s eery high-pitch shrieking is welcomed by this relatively tame crowd.
I remember the band performing “Shut Up” at the Bunker when Jehn still needed the lyric book, so new was the song at the time. Just over a year later, here in Liverpool, smoke emanates from the back of the stage, engulfing Jehn, creating the illusion of angel from hell, as the band smashes the track.
Jehn takes a moment to rehydrate and gather herself for the next track “Fuckers” (“Don’t let the fuckers get you down!”) and we’re getting the distinct impression that somebody somewhere has real anger issues. Well, there are certainly worse ways of releasing the tension.
Gemma demonstrates serious guitar shredding, at one point following Jehn somewhat puppy-like towards the back of the stage where they play an odd little dance together, culminating in Jehn hitting the cymbals of an unused drum-kit with her hands. It’s a little bit too staged, but the die-hard Savages fans seem happy, as Jehn then peculiarly asks the crowds, “Are you turned on? Are you high?? Because I’m not… frankly…” Thankfully, most of the room don’t hear the latter part and in any case they’re way too laid back to let it bother them.
The more orchestral “Flying to Berlin” sees screaming guitar notes and pounding bass, and then the total mayhem noise of “Another War” which impresses the crowds. “She Will” has Fay punching the crap out of her cymbal with one hand, in the midst of which she cracks a little smile (love it when she does that). The set ends with “Husbands” which closes up an intense set, even if with minimal engagement with the crowd. And we exit to see a queue into the rammed venue disperse outside. Savages can certainly gather the troops, and we leave on quite a high, having witnessed the evolution of a ‘young’ band who certainly know how to deliver their money’s worth on stage. One of the standout performances of the festival.