Tonight’s support band Savages launch like a tomahawk, striking you hard between the eyes from the first minute. After a debut set withBritish Sea Power, the quartet wisely retreated to sharpen their sound to a deadly point and deploy it in short, devastating bursts upon unsuspecting small crowds. They’re a fierce, androgynous and uncompromising unit with songs that veer from insistent Section 25-esque tension to the Cure’s woebegone grandeur.
At their core is a taut rhythm section, with Ayse Hassan’s belly-rumbling bass notes stretching out like a cat, embellished with shredded guitar flourishes. Front-woman Jehnny Beth is like Ian Curtis in heels, all elbows and cheekbones and boy-hair. Having cut her teeth in the arch, elegant John & Jehn, she sheds her impish quirkiness and coyness here to become the fully-fledged leader of the pack.
Beth’s remarkable voice has enormous power but is kept firmly in check, only let loose at occasional, opportune moments to swoop, holler and attack. At one point she riffs on a Gang of Four lyric but this is something much slinkier. There’s no plastic sexuality or fey girliness; Savages’ approach is sensual but tough and utilitarian. Beth’s nonchalance gives way during ‘Husbands’, a stampy Killing Joke-esque sonic assault, as the title is whispered, gasped, shrieked to a shuddering crescendo. Savages’ confidence is cool, unstudied and magnetic; it’s a perfect endorsement of the theory that you’ve either got it or you ain’t.
Toy ply the sort of overwrought shoegaze that I have infinite time for, and they make a nervy, infectious noise that you can swivel to. Think the meanest thoughts you can; your hips will still move disobediently – but something’s missing tonight and it’s massively conspicuous by its absence. Is it talent? No – simply experience. It’s early days for Toy to be selling out venues like East London’s XOYO. While their sound is compelling, there just aren’t any complete songs yet. ‘Bright White Shimmering Sun’ has a sexy, petulant hook but after the chorus, it’s unmemorable. Singer Tom Dougall’s voice needs to toughen up – it dissolves under an unedited miasma of guitar scree and a line like “I never thought I’d lose my way over you”, which should hurt and recall your last proper heartbreak, simply lacks impact.
It’s frustrating because I really want it to work. I first caught Toy back in December – my interest piqued by all those squealing guitars laid over ‘She’s Lost Control’ bass references. It built to a raging climax and, staggering home that winter night, the overwhelming sense was one of more please, now. While they can handle a headline crowd with ease, watching them tonight is, at times, like chasing the dragon: subsequent hits just don’t live up to the first and leave you disappointed and increasingly resentful.
The band’s finest moments still come when they let a wave of densely layered psychedelia submerge them. The rhythms, suggestive bass and even the sheer amount of hair between them are ultimately too much fun not to amount to something . But premature success can be a destructive thing – let’s hope they mature before the hype wears off;