TVD Live: Savages at the Rock and Roll Hotel, 7/13

Waiting for Savages to come on stage at the Rock and Roll Hotel on Saturday night, the anticipation was undeniable. The show had been sold out for months, their first full length album is less than three months old, and their live show has been hyped to no end since the band started performing in their native London in January 2012. It seemed inevitable that they would fall short.

The thing is, though, they fucking lived up to it. All of it.

Everything you read about Savages’ live shows is true—they wear all black. They don’t banter with the audience. They take their music seriously, and they’re good at what they do. They post notices asking fans to keep their phones in their pockets so they can experience the music—and the audience complies. And somehow, their highly acclaimed post-punk recorded tracks feel even more extraordinarily dynamic and powerful live. If you’ve even taken a passing listen to the wailing ferocity that infuses May 2013’s Silence Yourself, you know how much of a feat this is.

Just after 10:00 pm, the four band members sauntered on stage. Lead singer Jehnny Beth provided the only color in sight, her short pixie cut balanced by a swipe of bright red lipstick and rom the first note, she was mesmerizing. As expected, her interaction with the crowd between songs was minimal, but her near-constant eye contact with fans as she ran and pounded across the stage was the surprise element of the night, keeping the band grounded and engaged with their fans.

Jehnny Beth shares the stage with the talents of bassist Ayse Hassan, guitarist Gemma Thompson, and drummer Fay Milton. They are a tight unit. Hassan’s grinding bass lines emerge at just the right moments, the guitar feedback amps up exactly when it should, and Hassan’s grunge rock-past adds another layer of grit on top of an already-gritty band. It’s not overkill to say that it’s a rare combination of power and precision that makes Savages’ music so brilliant. Their influences from bands like Fugazi and Siouxsie and the Banshees, which Savages often cite as inspiration, is clear. But references to Blondie or Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds wouldn’t be out-of-place either.

About half way into the set, Savages launch into “I Am Here” and the crowd is finally figuring out how to truly enjoy their show. I see one person slyly snap a picture on his iPhone, and hurriedly put it into his pocket. Everyone else is entranced with the intensity of the music, and, for once, no one actually wants to be that guy watching the show through his phone’s screen.

That’s in part, however, because you wouldn’t actually be able to see much. The stage lights flash, leaving us all in pitch black every few seconds as Jehnny Beth screams into the mic, the percussion builds, and the guitar chords roughly echo off of the walls. You can’t see the musicians but the audience can feel the energy.

The end of the set is the most intense. It’s frenetic, controlled chaos. “Hit Me” is performed with as much drama and raw emotion as you would expect from a song inspired by a porn star’s harrowing tale. By the time the set closes with “Husbands,” one of their first two singles from back in 2012, the crowd is captivated.  There is no encore, though, and the night ends with fans clapping, hoping for more. But so long as Savages retain the talent, detail, and purpose that they expertly inject into their raw post-punk music, they won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. This may have been their first time playing DC, but it won’t be their last.

Savages return to DC at the 9:30 Club on September 10.
Photos: Richie Downs

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