Savages | Live Review

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A vital and challenging presence in the music industry today; a four-pronged ballistic assault on the ear before a comforting refrain, rather like the sonic equivalent of tough love…

Savages, as a name, consciously roots itself in origins, and breeds certain associations with aggression, instinct, unrestraint, and nonconformity; all of which can be applied to the London quartet in some shape or form. Their show at the Trinity Centre this past Thursday night was truly one to remember. Certainly the best Bristol has seen yet; third time really is the charm.

Support came in the form of Australian duo, A Dead Forest Index; a suitably artistic blend of measured guitar builds, temperamental time signatures, and ghostly vocality. They truly were the calm before the ferocious storm that followed, but by all means made an impact of their own, just as indefinable and boundless.

When Savages eventually took to the stage, and started with one of their boldest statements, ‘I Am Here’, provoking a furious brawl of colliding bodies in the audience, they showed no signs of fatigue from towards the end of a lengthy tour schedule. Effortlessly drawing upon each other, strength to strength, this is a band that really knows what they’re doing, and how to set it in motion.

Not only do their songs sound great live, they encompass universal frustrations; frustration with the world, with people, with the way things supposedly are; and from these frustrations burgeons powerful meaning. ‘Shut Up’ is a doubtless reminder of this. ‘I’m sick to keep it open wide / speaking words to the blind’, vocalist Jehnny Beth speaks in the song’s opening verse; a scathing retort to an ignorant, faceless multitude.

A new song, ‘I Need Something New’ reinforces the preceding, whilst showing an obvious development. Savages are not masqueraders to the things they critique; they are not a mere image; they truly believe in what they are standing for. ‘I’m trying my best / to make it possible / everyday’, Beth howls out among the subtle shriek of Gemma Thompson’s guitar.

‘Strife’ follows; a palpably tense concoction of musical prowess, highlighting more of Thompson’s refined guitar work, over a brooding undercurrent created by drummer Fay Milton and Ayse Hassan’s almost pornographic bass riff. Softer, yet perhaps simultaneously darker; this, along with ‘Waiting for a Sign’, and a cover of Suicide’s ‘Dream Baby Dream’, provided a much needed respite mid-set, and wonderfully showcased the range of sound the band is able to explore whilst retaining their distinctive ethos.

All of this, before launching in to ‘She Will’, ‘No Face’, ‘Hit Me’, and ‘Husbands’; all equally cathartic, loud and powerful. Whilst Beth acts as the prowling conductress – orchestrating the carnage with a number of hypnotic shapes both on and off stage – Hassan, Milton, and Thompson are pushing themselves to the limits to match her sonically. One such example from Milton is during ‘She Will’, where she grasps a cymbal with one hand before brutalising it with a series of violent strikes. Yet at the same time, they make the whole thing appear effortless; where most bands would struggle, Savages are able to deliver like it’s second nature.

Finally, ‘Fuckers’, introduced by Beth via a short narrative; a song which truly highlights the importance of the live setting to Savage’s sound; a song which had been previously bolted out in a violent stint, now extended, rethought, and improved upon, closed the set; leaving the audience insatiable with words of crude wisdom. ‘Don’t let the fuckers get you down’.

Whilst Savages may not reinvent the wheel at every turn, they are certainly a vital and challenging presence in the music industry today; a four-pronged ballistic assault on the ear before a comforting refrain, rather like the sonic equivalent of tough love. They make music, unapologetically; familiar, yet unlike any of their contemporaries. It is music, yet more than just music, something entirely sensory, which must be experienced in a number of ways to be truly understood; but for those unfamiliar with their work, the live setting is no doubt the place to start.

Watch a special live performance from Savages for KEXP: