Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Hives @ 100 Club, London

Out of the spotlight for the past three years, Hives frontman Howlin' Pelle Almqvist grabs his moment with predictable force. Midway through the band's low-key return to the capital, he asks the crowd to make a pledge. "Repeat after me," he commands. "I solemnly swear to follow the Hives, and the Hives only for the rest of my life."
Even taking into account the fact that this is a band who, in terms of self-belief, are the missing link between Muhammad Ali and Little Richard, Almqvist is asking a lot. Once at the vanguard of the garage rock movement, by the time of their last album, 2004's prophetically titled Tyrannosaurus Hives, the Swedish five-piece and their 60s-indebted rhythms had been pushed to the edge of extinction by the more adaptable charms of the Strokes and the Libertines.

Though they have sought out the talents of Timbaland and Pharrell Williams for their as yet unnamed new album, the Hives, dressed in black blazers with white piping and a monochrome emblem, are literally old school. Well, Alright staggers along with Temptations-like backing vocals rubbing uncomfortably against Almqvist's yelps and screams until it takes a befuddling - and fatal - leap into Kurt Weill territory. Tick Tick Boom is a retro whimper but Try It Again is better, a jagged, life-affirming pop song wrapped around a cut-throat guitar riff and a catchy refrain: "You get up, you get down, you try it again." It is more sure-footed than the standard fare from Tyrannosaurus Hives it nestles between, but there's no escaping how dated the band sound.
Still, as Almqvist puts it with typical impish irony: "Who better to give you some good old hat than the Hives?" Especially when there are the likes of Hate to Say I Told You So and Die Alright as reminders of the Hives' greatness. The dagger-like guitar chords and stinging bass-lines still impress and Almqvist's vocals burn with the kind of rage that makes the Horrors look like the anaemic coffin-kickers they really are.

"I am a rock'n'roll man," Almqvist tells us. "I fucking rule." He never gives anyone a chance to doubt him. Striding across the stage like a prefect with a superiority complex, or hanging from the ceiling like a sweaty monkey, Almqvist almost bullies the audience into ecstatic appreciation. Main Offender and Walk Idiot Walk get the response he is looking for, but the Hives remain as frustrating as they are compelling.



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