February 5, 2002
Hives : Portsmouth Wedgwood Rooms
First off, let's get those criticisms out of the way. Hives' detractors - Starsailor fans, most of them - accuse them of being contrived. It's all too choreographed, apparently. They're a 'showband'. It's just a big hype. Style over content. Blah blah blah.
Most of these criticisms revolve around the name Randy Fitzsimmons. He's the guy who came up with the concept of Hives and wrote all their songs for them. This week, speculation's been rife about Fitzsimmons' true identity. Some people reckon it might be Bill Drummond, of KLF fame. More sensibly, others reckon he's just some mate of the band's. Hives themselves are saying nothing, except that Fitzsimmons currently resides in "Funk Rock City" . Chew on that.
The 400 lucky punters who witness tonight's show need no reassurances, for the simple reason that Hives are incredible. § Regardless of who writes their songs, there can be doubt that these guys mean every word they say. Sure, their performances are carefully choreographed, but then, all great rock'n'roll has its element of artifice. And Hives know a thing or two about great rock'n'roll.
Expectations are high tonight. It's the first night of a sold-out tour, 'Your New Favourite Band' has just clocked up its first gold disc, and the band's cherubic features have been everywhere this past week. To convince the doubters, it's clear that Hives will have to go the extra mile. They don't disappoint.
They look beautiful, for a start, clad in their classic stage uniform - the black shirts and trousers, with white shoes and ties. Having seized our attention with a blitzkrieg version of 'Declare: Guerre Nuclearie' (from second album 'Veni Vidi Vicious'), they hold it for every second of a fast and frantic 45 minute set. To be fair, all of the 13 songs they play tonight sound roughly the same - they're all ultra-basic, three-chord garage-punk anthems. But by the same token, they all hit their mark. In rock'n'roll, it really is best to keep things simple.
Adding to the entertainment is Howlin' Pelle's between-song banter, which seems carefully rehearsed, but is delivered with unswerving conviction. "We're providing a rock'n'roll education for all you uneducated English people," he sneers at one point, and the crowd actually cheers his slur. Later, as the gig builds to its climax, he asks us some questions: "Do you want us to play great music? Or do you want something more from Hives?" It's a perfect riposte to the naysayers.
Pelle's not the only star, though. His pouting brother - mercurial lead guitarist Nicholaus Arson - is a veritable fireball of intensity, cracking out the riffs with a zeal that would shame Angus Young. He also delivers the night's most memorable gesture. Having lead the charge through 'I Hate To Say I Told You So' - predictably awesome tonight - Arson kisses his plectrum and passes it to a fan in the first row. Which is about as cool as it gets.
Hives reckon they're pretty special, and pretty soon the whole world's gonna agree with them. Randy Fitzsimmons, take a bow.
To read all our reviews first - days before they appear online - check out NME magazine, on sale every Wednesday