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Live Review: Savages at The Imperial, Vancouver

Savages live in Vancouver - Photo by Jenny Patsula

There’s something about catching a band at that quintessential moment in their rise where the band is firing on all cylinders and touring what years down the road, will be looked at as a benchmark album in the genre.  London-based post-punk outfit, Savages are having a red-letter year.  Their second album Adore Life is a brilliant noire-noise record that demands attention.  The four piece has tapped in to the secret of stirring up a bombastic hurricane of sound greater than the sum of its parts.  Soaring over the frenzy like a hawk is their enigmatic figurehead, Jehnny Beth.  The French singer is as natural a front-person as any with a demeanour that doesn’t plead for attention, it captivates out of the virtue of her shear vocal power.

Friday night, Savages brought their frenetic set to Vancouver’s jewel of a concert hall, The Imperial.  The relatively new space, modelled after London’s Electric Cinema, has arguably the best sound in town.  The room can somehow play as both upscale and underground at the same time.  It’s great that the venue is consistently getting shows that would normally go to Granville Street’s lacklustre venues that are more concerned with turning the room halfway through the night for the club crowd rather than supporting performing artists (I swear I’m not on their payroll haha). I say this because the venue can play a big role in the strength of a show along with the crowd and the band itself.  In this case, the venue perfectly mirrored the band performing.  The rowdy, edgy vibe of an underground dive with the chic, ultra-cool of a fashion show.  The set traded off material from their current album and 2013’s  Silence Yourself.

Amid fog and swirling guitar feedback, drummer Fay Milton thundered in with a tom-heavy, driving beat.  The others systematically chimed in with Beth finally declaring “I am here!” in the poignantly titled rocker on the same name from their debut album.  Strobe lights flickered to the beat like paparazzi cameras with the stage lit in strictly monochromatic light. At one point, Beth paused to remark, “There is something that ties us together…other than that we’re all wearing black”.  After a few more raucous numbers, ‘Slowing Down the World’ let everyone catch their breath for a brief moment and reflect.

The crowd was truly alive that night.  Vancouver audiences are notoriously blasé, particularly for events that draw out the hipster set but Friday night everyone was fired up.  The dance floor turned in to a flailing pit of dancing maniacs thanks to Beth’s entrancing presence and ceaseless engagement.   The svelte singer through herself in to the crowd half a dozen times, even taking to the floor below to belt out a few verses.

The highlight of the evening came mid-set with the blitzkrieg of ‘I Need Something New’ and ‘The Answer’ back to back.  Those tracks are Adore Life’s most unforgivingly frantic and experiencing them consecutively is a serious thrashing.  ‘The Answer’ is a near perfect song.  The players whip up a frenzy of Mars Volta style madness over which Jehnny Beth’s voice straddles the line between coo and scream like PJ Harvey on amphetamines.  The song embodies the essence of the band, it feels like trying to contain an nuclear explosion.

The encore consisted of the swelling, mission statement piece ‘Adore Life’ and the irreverent 2014 single, ‘Fuckers’.  The latter gave the crowd one last chance for catharsis with the mantra “Don’t let the fuckers get you down!”.  It felt like everyone took the message to heart.

Heading in to the thick of summer concert season, that show sets the bar very high.  Savages have harnessed a power and carved out a spot for themselves in a genre that is becoming more and more homogenous.   Each one of them, a phenomenal player but they conjure something crazy from the ether when they join forces.  That was definitely a contender for show of the year.  Their star is rising very fast.  Don’t miss a chance to see them.

Jon Ireson
I am a freelance music journalist from Vancouver BC, Canada. After writing concert reviews for 3 years for Scene in the Dark, I shifted my focus to album reviews. I love discovering new music, especially bands that bend genres and take music in to new territory. In addition to writing about it, I mix and produce music for various projects.