100 Club, London Tuesday, July 24
Thought you’d seen the back of The Hives? Think again, they’re back like a rash.
“Yes ladies and gentlemen, IT REALLY IS HAPPENING! The Hives are playing the 100 Club!” Pelle Almqvist parades along the front of the stage in his white-trimmed, Prisoner-style black school uniform, pointing his precision-guided cheekbones into lens after lens. “Who else wants to take photos? Yes, I really am here! Tell your grandchildren. It’s been a while since The Hives have completely destroyed a venue of this size, but let me ask you this. HAVE WE LOST IT?”
The crowd get their arms halfway into the air and a roar of “NOOOO!” almost out of their mouths before Pelle cuts them off: “That was a rhetorical question.”
Well, not entirely, Pelle. It’s precisely because The Hives haven’t destroyed a venue of this size for so long that interest in Sweden’s most self-aggrandising gang of pomp-punk titans has waned. It’s the curse of the garage band: in an actual garage they’re an in-yer-face, visceral, violent volt-bolt of primal pummelling that hits you in the gut, gullet and brain stem. Bung them in a big shed, though, and they just become an echoey racket at the other end of Brixton Carling Academy; each non-single indistinguishable from the next. So you’d only go for Pelle’s hilarious between-song comedy arrogances and the great bit where they all stop perfectly still for a minute in the middle of a song. Add in a formulaic, furrow-ploughing last album – ‘Tyrannosaurus Hives’ – that couldn’t even set Towers Of London’s hair product lorry on fire, let alone the world, and you have a band that may not have ‘lost it’, but were certainly fumbling about to find where they’d dropped the zeitgeist. Now where did they last put it down…? Oh yes, about 2004.
But nothing so petty as withering cultural relevance is going to dampen The Hives’ self-belief – oh no, like Inca kings deep in the rainforests unaware that the Spanish have landed, they take to the 100 Club stage like gods. Their hair is tighter cut (or, in bassist Dr Matt Destruction’s case, pretty much departed). Their uniform is Hogwarts Prefect blazers, ties and breast pocket badges. And, this close-up, Pelle’s laser-vision ‘you must adore me’ glares are impossible to avoid.
And he’s gone all Billy Graham on our sinner asses. The band’s months in America recording their fourth album (rumoured to be entitled, with typical Hives modesty, ‘The World’s First Perfect Album’) with Pharrell Williams and Timbaland have converted Pelle into a Southern-style preacher with an Elvis twang in his throat, evangelical on the subject of his own magnificence. Through the Black Rebel-ish new song ‘Bigger Hole To Fill’ and the trademark raucous Iggy strut of ‘Declare Guarre Nucleaire’ he hangs from the PA, baptising the front row with his heavenly Hand Of Hives Healing. Before unveiling their first collaboration with Pharrell – ‘Well Alright’, which swings from verses of frantic Blur-ish “woo-hooo!”s to a slow Presley waltz of a chorus – he makes the entire crowd hold their hands to their hearts and pledge an oath to follow The Hives (“and only The Hives!”) for the rest of their lives, yelling “THIS IS MY CHURCH”. He introduces the fantastically Britpoppy new number ‘Lasse Shuffle (You Dress Up For Armageddon, I’ll Dress Up For Summer)’ – essentially ‘Parklife’ rioting down Sesame Street – by demanding that the 300 of us make more noise than the 30,000 people they played to at a festival last week. Trapped in the sort of overheated underground bunker usually more suitable for brainwashing terrorist hostages, he makes true believers of us all once more.
Plus, at point-blank range, the tunes shine through. Gurning guitarist Nicholaus Arson splays volcanic AC/DC and ZZ Top riffs across ‘Walk Idiot Walk’ and ‘Main Offender’, ‘A Little More For A Little You’ rattles out “Way-o! Way-o!”s as current as any Enemy tune and new song ‘Try It Again’ slams the ‘ram’ in the ‘rama-lama-ding-dong’ and then stamps it home with a polished boot heel. But the highlight comes with ‘Diabolic Scheme’, a smooth-hearted ’50s swayalong with a switchblade edge, half-Grease, half Phantom Of The Opera. At its climax Pelle stares down an unimpressed girl and, the moment he’s hypnotised her into total devotion, the band do their musical statues thing. If only Derren Brown could rock…
The main set all ends with a ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’ as devastating as a tidal wave through Gloucestershire, drummer Chris Dangerous being carried shoulder-high back to the dressing room and Pelle’s words ringing in our near haemorrhaging eardrums: “Are The Hives BAAAAACK?”
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And that’s a rhetorical question.