Wednesday, May 22, 2019

BOOM

DOWN AT THE ROCK & ROLL CLUB—The Hives demonstrate utter domination of the rock and roll stage. No, I'm not quoting their press release or an interview quip from front man Pelle Almqvist. The Hives are truly greater then the sum of their parts, which when combined threaten to topple most venues. "The Vic is such a beautiful theater. It'd be a shame if something happened to it," Almqvist announced wryly from the stage on Monday night. "Like if The Hives played there." Almqvist's schtick—haughty (and funny) Scandinavian arrogance and mock-condescension—hasn't changed a lick since I last saw the band, and neither has his mates' ferocious, stomping, on-point playing, and that's the point: you pay, the Hives deliver, no surprises, no disappointments. Guaranteed.

The band sported a new bass player, new to the U.S., anyway; The Johan and Only's been in the band since 2013. Drummer Chris Dangerous was missing, also; as Almqvist graphically explained to the crowd, he was the victim of some recent stomach surgery, and it's testament to the band's legendary showmanship that the cog that is the replacement drummer, whose name I regrettably missed, labored smoothly inside the Hive Engine, not missing a beat (figuratively, too, his moves in perfect sync with the rest of the band.) Watching the Hives own the stage, riding atop their insanely propulsive riffs and hooks, brings to mind peak, late-70s/early-80s AC/DC: rhythm guitarist Vigilante Carlstroem, he of the stout figure and Nordic beard, anchors stage right like a mountainous Malcolm Young, and flash lead guitarist Nicholaus Arson roams the joint like a more dapper Angus, all come-hither gestures and audience-baiting, laughably basking in the glow of his own wonderfulness. And Pelle: let's just say that he and Bon would've likely gotten along. Almqvist was charmingly imperfect at this gig: he was drinking beer, and more than once lost himself in the middle of his well-rehearsed patter, at one point letting loose a genuine grin and announcing, "Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the part of the show where I have no idea what the fuck I'm talking about!" He quickly righted himself on those occasions, but the crack revealed the ace showman behind the mask. I liked him better for the rare fuckups.

What I love about the Hives is their nervy but endearing self-knowledge that the act they're putting on—the Hives play so well that they destroy all other rock and roll, and you are lucky to witness them—is part-joke and yet all-true. My tolerance for "funny" in rock and roll is not that high; the Hives are funny and they know they have the goods behind the irony. The fact that there is such a gap between their stateside visits only strengthens their myth and makes the joke funnier, and more powerful. The band still dresses in matching black-and-white suits, tuxedo shirts, and bow ties, the roadies in matching all-black Ninja outfits. And the songs are utterly fireproof: longstanding faves "Main Offender," "Go Right Ahead," "Hate to Say I Told You So," "Won't Be Long," and a ferocious "Tick Tick Boom" as an encore rocked the Vic from its foundation to the balconies, delivered with oiled precision that still sounded, and felt, recklessly hammered together. I was up-front all night, three deep in the rowdy section, and I left elated, drenched in sweat and beer. The band premiered a few new songs ("Paint a Picture," "Good Samaritan," and the new single, the pounding "I'm Alive") that confidently furthered the Hives Brand, but the bliss comes in how new and stirring the old songs still sound, the riffs and eighth-notes a perpetual motion machine. I felt elevated for most of the too-short show.

I'm a fan, obviously. It's especially fun to be a fan of the Hives. You're in the joke and the joke always delivers. "You do everything you weren't allowed to do in school," Almqvist has remarked about playing live. "Jumping up and down, screaming, annoying people, and people love you for it." A jest, and the truth.





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