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Search The Line of Best Fit

Savages – Concorde 2, Brighton 05/11/13

11 November 2013, 09:55 | Written by Christian Cottingham

Bonfire Night, and the sky is ablaze with colour and lights. Meanwhile, in Brighton’s Concorde 2, all is black. Everyone is in black. The room is black. The stage, bar some minimal white lighting and the occasional strobe, is black. Savages, all four of them, are dressed in black. As setting the mood goes, it’s pretty definitive.

Actually setting the mood came earlier, with the signs from the band arranged around the venue imploring attendees to ‘silence your phones’, as their use ‘prevents all of us from totally immersing ourselves.’ “They’re not much fun, are they?” mutters a woman to my left, grudgingly sheathing her iPhone in her bag. Well, no – no they’re not. Fun is absolutely what Savages aren’t.

That much should be clear from their intro tape alone, an air-raid drone of rising intensity that silences the room and has more than a few people backing away from the speakers warily – the equivalent of a viper’s hiss, a warning call. Seconds in to opener “I Am Here” and it seems they were justified; drummer Fay Milton’s salvo of beats vying with the death-rattled peals from Gemma Thompson’s guitar for impact and sheer abrasiveness – a two-pronged artillery that never lets up. Banish those foolish notions of melody and tune: Savages are pure drive, an assault of reverb-ed feedback and anguished howls held together by Ayse Hassan’s bass loops and sheer bastard vigour.

But these three are just shadows beside vocalist Jehnny Beth, both figuratively and literally – they cling to the edges, half-lit and silent, whilst Beth is anything but: she’s terrifyingly present, stalking the stage like a barely-captured animal and exuding the kind of coiled menace that the animal world can only dream of evolving. And sure, it might be practiced and affected but it doesn’t matter: when she pauses mid-line on the spoken-word “I Need Something New” to stair down a guy with a camera phone three rows back, his flash illuminating her apoplectic face, the fire is fully convincing. For at least half a minute she stares him down from over the barrier, the only motion the LED light glancing off her face and the only sound the collective breath of the room before she backs away, eyes kept fiercely on him as someone somewhere in the room rounds off a nervous laugh and chokes it halfway lest she rest her gaze upon them next. There are notably fewer flashes for the remainder of their set.

It’s Beth who commands our attention throughout, her voice veering from a frenzied yelp on “City’s Full” to an emotive swell on the standout “Waiting For A Sign”. When a mosh pit forms for a particularly heavy section she admonishes the participants: “No, the dance is a twist,” she says, her voice crisp and clipped, her movements sinuous and hypnotic. For “Shut Up” she stands atop the monitors, surrounding herself in the sound, her body anticipating every stabbing chord and rhythmic shift. “Turn it up”, someone cries, masochistically. “Louder?”, she replies, an incredulous half-smile etched on her face as she shrugs towards the sound desk: “We can do that.”

This year’s Silence Yourself is a fine record but it does nothing to prepare us for the live show – the claustrophobia’s there, sure, the monochrome palette and the airless delivery, but without the volume it’s like viewing a painting through a pinhole: yeah, you can see it, but what’s the point? But with the volume – with the volume Savages are damn near untouchable, their set a masterclass of build and release, of texture and poise.

There are high points everywhere, from the gradual escalation of Suicide cover “Dream Baby Dream” to “Husbands’” fevered mania and the drawn-out ferocity of closer “Fuckers”, but actually calling out individual songs is irrelevant: Savages’ strength lies not in their individual songs but in their delivery, in the sheer conviction at the power of their own sound. And whilst eventually Savages are going to have to add a bit more substance to their material, but right now the noise and colourless, caustic thrills are all we need.

Photograph by Sara Amroussi-Gilissen taken at The Forum. See full gallery here.

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