Ministry Of Sound, London, Thursday May 9
“Ah want to read you something ah wrote a few days ago,” says Jehnny Beth, picking up a notebook. “Eet is pretty naughty.” It is a poem called You Must Feed Me, and Savages’ singer reads it out as her bandmates shadow her with ghostly slithers and scrapes. A plea for sexual domination, it finds her begging a lover to strip her naked, spit on her, put her on her knees “like a dirty dog”. “You must keep my mouth full…” she orders, and you can almost feel the room’s English reserve standing strong. Savages then lurch into a Yeah Yeah Yeahs-gone-goth squall called ‘Hit Me’. “I took a beating tonight“, gasps Jehnny, eyes wild.
It’s not difficult to see why people are getting hot under the collar for Savages. Their aesthetic – a torrid churn of razor-sharp post-punk, taboo-skirting sexual politics, arty poise and Ian Curtis stare – has generated a level of discussion that new bands seldom do these days. Lofty ambitions have given grist to the doubters, who deem them copyists. Pretentious. Manufactured. Anti-revolutionary. But a look around the central London nightclub hosting the album launch suggests Savages are in the process of building their tribe. At first you wonder if the layout of tonight’s show – the band playing in the centre of the floor, bathed in white light, the audience circled around – will work against them, Christians-to-the-lions style. But Savages all face inwards, a closed circle, and seem to draw power from one another. ‘City’s Full’ and ‘Shut Up’ show off their skill for sheer white-knuckle propulsion, churning along on Ayse Hassan’s whiplash bass. But, if anything, Savages are more impressive when they dial things back; ‘Waiting For A Sign’ is smouldering, swampy blues that Gemma Thompson intermittently interrupts with shrieking, strangulated torrents of guitar.
What will save Savages from the naysayers in the short term is the fact that they can really play – not in a patronising ‘girls can play!’ way, but with a clinical surety akin to Wire or The Stranglers. Right now, they’re still a little too in hock to post-punk cliché, which if anything serves to obscure their talents. But give them time. Once Savages really know themselves, they’ll take some beating.