At KEXP, our love for post-punk sirens Savages knows no bounds. Their debut LP Silence Yourself is without a doubt one of the best introductions of the year. These four women have put together a sound and a vision whose fury and vigil have no equal. Listening to Savages is an experience - it goes past the typical realm of album enjoyment. The message that singer and lyricist Jehnny Beth has put together and the sonic atmosphere backing it created by her band of amazons is entirely worth your full attention. Of course, however incredible the record may be, the full Savages experience is only felt and understood when the band stands in front of you on a sparsely lit stage all ripping instruments and vocal chords to shreds. When Savages introduced themselves to Seattle last April, two weeks before their album release, it was a riot shrouded in mystery. Everyone present knew that greatness was in front of them - we just didn’t know what to do with it yet. Now that fans have been playing Silence Yourself at deafening volume for a couple months, Savages’ second Seattle stop made for quite a different time. The raw, potential energy on stage turned kinetic in the crowd, and with a blood-curdling proclamation of “I am here” throughout Neumos, Savages converted any and all non-believers present. Together with an opening set from Duke Garwood (the clarinetist on “Marshall Dear”), Savages are keeping us thirsty for more blood.
Duke Garwood opened the night with an eclectic set, guided by oceanic guitars, clarinet, and gobs of bass. If you get any idea of Garwood from his clarinet solo on Savages cut “Marshall Dear”, it’s one of equal parts chaos and control. Garwood’s asymmetric jazzy mess here captures the anxiety and uncertainty that walk through the track perfectly, albeit in a completely unorthodox way. In his own tunes, similar techniques come forth. Garwood’s guitar was filtered to an underwater texture and the knobs were turned up high enough on his hollow body guitar that letting the strings reverberate for more than a couple seconds at a time led to more than a little feedback. Garwood was a bomb waiting to explode, but seeing him perform and hearing his music, there’s no other way to have it. His bassist (Johnny Hostile, Jehnny Beth’s longtime beau and regular collaborator) used similar tactics, scratching and pulling notes out like weeds from the ground, while electronic pulses gave a sense of western structure to the whole bit. While the audience may not have understood much of the almost unattainable brilliance happening on stage, they were no doubt captivated. Once again, Savages’ choice of opener made perfect sense: a call to attention and a surprising shot in the dark.
When Ayse Hassan hits that bass line that starts “Shut Up”, shit gets real. Before you have time to catch your breath, she’s busted out a couple dozen notes and Fay Milton has already started pounding out the best post-punk drum line since Stephen Morris’s heyday. Then Gemma Thompson, dead silent throughout the show from stage right, paces the track forward while Jehnny Beth commands your full attention from dead center. In her live persona, Beth has captured the best cold, merciless stare to the back of the room since Ian Curtis, and in the six months since we last saw Savages here at Neumos, it’s only gotten more intense. “I am a breaker of ocean, leaden like a bullet to the sun”, Beth sings with full conviction. If you don’t believe her, check your pulse. With Milton’s fiery drum build and Thompson’s spiraling guitars, it’s almost too much to take in. But Savages never promised you civility - just presence. And following with “City’s Full” and “I Am Here”, presence is exactly what we get.
Savages are all about their concept. The band takes its name from Lord of the Flies type stories of societal degradation and confusion and their imagery all comes back to one underlying idea: noise. There is too much noise in our minds and too much noise deafening us to the lessons we could be learning from teachers and loved ones and even ourselves. The call to silence that their album gives is a completely enthralling one, and in a desire to create a band that is bigger than the sound and embodies an idea, Savages have succeeded. But at the end of the day, the litmus test of a band doesn’t really call outside factors and inputs like these into question. At the end of the day, the trial by fire is a stage, and a crowd full of people with beers in hand, who just got off of a 9 to 5 that want to hear something incredible. Last time Savages came to Seattle, they blew our minds, but it was good to keep the context in mind. This time, Savages showed Seattle a show that required no introduction. The gorgeous artwork and color scheming and historical presentation and brilliant album/image concept - this time, all of those were supplementary. But at the forefront, there was a band of four women that tore the roof off, and that’s what everyone in Neumos went home with, tattooed on the backside of their eyelids.
Beth climbs out in front of monitors and sets herself at the very edge of the stage, inches from those in the front row who haven’t yet taken a couple steps backwards in fear for their lives. It’s a new track. After almost murmering away at what she has accomplished or attained, Beth screams, “I need something new”, and repeats to infinity - it’s a theme not far removed from the mantra the band have built for themselves thus far. Affluence, malcontent, and insatiable lust for more - all products of a self not silenced. If this one is any evidence, it looks like the next batch of tunes will be just as relentless as the first. Next up, Savages give us a pleasant surpise. Beth lifts her hands asking for silence while Hassan and Milton drop into a steady groove. Soon after, Thompson adds an etherial layer of noise and, to almost everyone’s surprise, major key melody. “Dream, baby, dream”, Beth starts in, her eyes closed for the first time the entire night. It’s a cover of the Suicide classic, and finally, it’s one that honors the band in full flying colors. Not straying too far from the original, the build is intense and unfaltering. By the end of it, Thompson’s guitars are at soaring levels and the crowd is completely captivated.
But the quiet didn’t last long. For the last third of their set, Savages pulled out all the stops for probably the most intense 25 minutes of my year thus far, starting an excellent rendition of “Flying To Berlin”. This track, maybe more than any other that Savages have written thus far, showcases the unique power of each member of the band. Hassan’s brutal, crunching bass line is countered perfectly by the bright, percussive stabs of Thompson’s guitars, while Milton plays the most jaw-dropping drum hook of the evening. Seriously, if you can even begin to keep track of how good Fay Milton is back there, you are bound to have a smile on your face. Meanwhile, Jehnny Beth keeps things classic up front, glancing this way and that across the audience to find the fans that have kept up with her this far. Silence Yourself lead single “She Will” was followed quickly by the murderously powerful “No Face”, complete with Beth throwing punches at air very near the front row. But when the band came in with “Husbands” and “Hit Me”, Neumos came alive. You know you are at a damned good show when a crowd mostly over 30 starts a mosh pit, attempts stage dives, and pushes forward to the edge of the stage to sing along, all for a band that has only been around for two years. If this doesn’t convince you that Savages are worth the plunge, I don’t know what will.
After the mantra-quoting non-album track “Fuckers” and an exit for an encore, Savages returned once more to play “Waiting For A Sign” and a fully realized rendition of “Marshall Dear”. Beth took to a keyboard setup while Duke Garwood occupied stage left alongside Thompson. The crowd went silent as the band began in the quiet album closer. And as Beth banged out the chorus piano crashes and cried out “Silence Yourself” and Garwood played his clarinet solo, we got a picture of the artists underneath the theatrical wonder that is Savages. This is a band that will show you the best performance you’ve ever seen, but they can also strip it all away and be artists and musicians and visionaries in every classic sense. A beautiful end to a beautiful storm, Savages left the stage once again to return another day.
If you want to find out about Savages’ live majesty yourself, check out their set live in the KEXP studio. Check out the rest of our gorgeous set of photos below.