A thunderstruck, brilliant display of chaotic camaraderie, with a stunning surprise for the end of the performance
Every year during Fauxchella, there is always The One Show To Rule Them All. Often times, it’s a wildly infamous, recently-reformed act playing a tiny venue; other times, it’s a great swath of bands all playing one massive evening; occasionally, however, the headlining act is simply one of the most talked-about acts on the live circuit, and as luck would have it, they have that night all to themselves, and are poised to deliver a heart-stopping, utterly thrilling set to all of the lucky fans that managed to snatch up tickets to their gig. Many Bay Area concertgoers will be likely to rant and rave about all of the indietronic acts that dominated the earlier part of the week and weekend prior as the Shows To See, but this year, that honor went to the London quartet known as Savages, who took over the stage at the Fillmore and delivered one of the most ferocious and stunningly energetic performances of 2016 — in less than two hours’ time.
Stories of Savages’ shows have been circulating around the concert scene for quite a while; their frenzied onstage antics are almost as well-documented as their polite but firm stance on keeping phones turned off at their gigs, so the feeling of community and “angry-positive” spirit — a term that singer Jehnny Beth used to describe many of the band’s songs — is ever more potent in a live context. Their chaotic movements and bulldozing noise clash magnificently with their impeccable sense of style; all four musicians dressed in monochrome hues, and the stage lights, though very abundant, barely shift into any discernible hue of color, instead opting for cold (and, occasionally, warm) whites shimmering within the dark shadows. Except for the occasional pause and remark from Beth about the need for even more energy, more volume, and more enthusiasm, the women of Savages barely paused at all during their set, plowing through song after song as if each one was going to be the last one they played together.
While guitarist Gemma Thompson, bassist Ayse Hassan and drummer Fay Milton stayed mostly solid and steady in their movement — albeit taut with concentration and lost in their own performances — Beth was the undeniable spectacle of the band, exuding a massive stage presence reminiscent of a fearsome predator engaging upon its prey. She leapt, she prowled, she ran, she hurtled back and forth; in one moment, she would fiercely tear away at her loose sweatshirt and screw up her face in an expression of seething rage; in another, her eyes were wide and piercing, a haunting blend of curiosity and hunger as she gripped her microphone like a weapon wielded. On more than a handful of occasions, Beth marched across a box of gear onto the barricade, deftly maneuvering it like a dancer avoiding a series of bear traps, and buried herself in the hands and shouts of the ecstatic crowd around her. This was, a few times, followed by her placing a careful boot out onto the hands of one collection of onlookers, before throwing herself backwards upon the sea of humanity; effortlessly, she was carried along and back to the stage within moments, writhing about in time with the music as it overtook her.
As Savages had recently released their sophomore effort Adore Life, the set was evenly split with songs from that new record and those from their debut Silence Yourself, and leapt back and forth between the albums with no signs of stopping. Though the crowd took most enthusiastically to the classic pieces from Silence Yourself, such as “Shut Up”, “Hit Me” and “Husbands”, roars of pleasure were heard within the opening notes of “Sad Person”, “I Need Something New”, and their massive new single “The Answer”, and the audience exploded with each new thunderous riff that was dealt at them. This was where Savages’ live performance truly shined; whether you had come out of hardcore fandom, or as someone who was vaguely familiar with the band but quickly wowed by their unrelenting energy onstage, every song offered either a line, a verse, or a single word that was simple to learn, to redeliver, and to share loudly with everyone around you — even Beth herself, when she shoved her face into the crowd and pulled faces towards hers to scream into her microphone.
The biggest surprise of the evening, however, was not the unstoppable force of the quartet, nor the unanimous camaraderie of the fans at the show. For the final two songs of the set, the audience was stunned as no fewer than a dozen men and women, all clad in NASA garb, marched onto the stage, each carrying their own instrument (everything ranging from brass, to strings, to even drums and rain sticks) and taking places all around the members of the band. Her excitement spilling over as she spoke, Beth announced that they had traveled to the Ames Research Center earlier that day, and collected a team of engineers from SETI to come and play with them for that evening. What followed was a truly breathtaking finale to an evening that had all but managed to drain the life force of everyone crammed against each other at the Fillmore that night, with the massive orchestra adding an otherworldy collage of sound to “Mechanics” and the titular song “Adore” for the end of the show.
What I was expecting for this show was a frenetic, aggressive performance, full of passion and glamour, and it can easily be said that Savages’ performance demolished my expectations. They tore through their set with all of the fury of a hell-bent storm, and none of the egos so often seen by other rock stars, whose awareness of the spell they have cast on their onlookers manifests in swagger and mannerisms that, for all of their playful intent, can often come off as condescending. Beth, Hassan, Thompson and Milton came and let loose their musical fusillade, and were ever eager to welcome their fans into setting off such bombs alongside them — every interaction was as much a bellow of rage as it was a powerful embrace. To top it off, the abrupt ending to the violence of their set came at the perfect moment to regain energy while slowly swaying to the ever-crescendoing sounds of their impromptu orchestra from another world. It was amazing to behold, and the excitement seemed to never fall from its peak.
Watch out, 2016: Savages are here to conquer the world.
Additional photos from the show below. All photos are © 2016 Jonathan Pirro.