Roundhouse, London, December 14
Within approximately four and a half minutes of taking to the stage, The Hives’ frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist has air-kicked harder than Sporty Spice, strutted and pouted more than Mick Jagger, and engaged the Roundhouse crowd in more perfectly timed screams, synchronized claps and brilliant silliness than you’d get at a weekend at Pontin’s. “They say the definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting a different result”, Pelle sings on tonight’s second track, ‘Try It Again’. The Hives, it has to be said, are definitely not mad. From the matching outfits (the five of them are currently adopting a top hat and tails combo) to the bombastic showmanship of their ringleader via the three-minute spikes of shouty garage-rock that make up every single song, the Swedish quintet’s schtick is the same one they’ve been peddling for 15 years. It’s a trait that should be the band’s greatest flaw, yet is somehow their finest quality. Sure, art needs to progress (and lord knows music rags are the first in line to invent genres to facilitate this) but, y’know, if it ain’t broke and all that…
Tonight’s set draws heavily from The Hives’ 2012-released fifth album, ‘Lex Hives’, bookending all of the hits with some of their newer stuff. It’s a testament to the band’s unyielding, relentless energy that at no point during these lesser-known tracks does the mood drop. The White Stripes simplicity of ‘Take Back The Toys’ makes for one of the finer new cuts as it grinds through on a descending bassline, its melodic repetition allowing the whole track to be about how Almqvist delivers it. He jumps on the bass drum and scissor-kicks off; then, framed by the terrifying puppet-master that anoints the band’s backdrop, he fishes out a Union Jack flag from the crowd and ends the song with a timed-to-perfection bow. Somehow it seems completely, theatrically rehearsed and flamboyantly anarchic at the same time.
The demonic opening growls of ‘My Time Is Coming’ too, during which the giant ‘HIVES’ letters decorating the stage are bathed in red light, are a lesson in amazingly off-kilter showmanship. But of course it’s the big hitters (of which there are, naturally, loads) that bring the message home. The chorus of ‘Main Offender’ is conducted like a hedonistic sermon, ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’ is preceded with a speech about sticking two fingers up to the Mayan-predicted end of the world on December 21 and closer ‘Tick Tick Boom’ is dedicated “to the crowd, and to The Hives”. Amazing.