There are occasions when a borderline assaholic and cock-sure front man is so ably backed by the rest of the band and the crowd at large that all the planets align and you know you’re going to witness a bare-knuckled brawl of a show. We here in the Nation's capital were treated to just such an alignment at the 9:30 Club last Tuesday as Sweden's hardest working band, The Hives, blew up all over the stage in a sea of trademark black and white for the opening night of the American leg of their Lex Hives tour.
It takes a confident man to pull off a top hat, white tie and tails, but five confident men are obviously a better show. The best dressed garage band to ever appear on a D.C. stage broke the seal on the night in front of a maniacally grinning backdrop, chanting “COME ON, COME ON, COME ON,” etc. The first track on the new album is nothing but these two words relentlessly screamed over and over again for 70 seconds, and while it’s a bit much in your cramped apartment, it’s brilliant as a show opener. That bled straight into “Try it Again,” from the ever-popular Black & White album, and what followed was a night-long onslaught of LOUDNESS, RAWK and, more to the point, FUN.
The sold-out audience was a mixed bag of ages, from a brotastic blend of fraternity brothers and lawyers sneaking out for a night of slamming on the main floor, to the balcony packed with 10-year-olds and their parents, all wearing Hives shirts from the past two decades. Regardless of age or gender, upstairs or downstairs, all breathing things in the entire venue, from the tiny baby mice in the basement to the tiny baby bats in the rafters, were jumping up and down in a uniform thrashy pit of ZOMG by the time the band got to “Walk Idiot Walk” five or six songs in. Lead singer Pelle Almqvist (or Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist to his friends) then launched into a shrieky version of “My Time is Coming,” where the chorus was the only decipherable lyric.
The Hives don’t do power ballads. They don’t nod to the 80s despite obviously being influenced by them. And most importantly, they don’t do anything quietly. Almqvist maintained non-stop raucous banter throughout the evening, chirping "Do you like it slow? Oh, you like it fast, D.C.? Then that's why you're here! The Hives are going to play a song for you now!" What followed was an ear-wrenching “No Pun Intended,” from 2004’s Tyrannosaurus Hives. All night Almqvist referred to the band in the third person, and delivered enough swagger to conjure the ghost of Mick Jagger Past. It’s not blasphemy to compare the Hives to the Stones if their live performance can back up the buffoonery, and as anyone in attendance will attest, they accomplished that feat mightily on Tuesday.
Next, Almqvist argued that we were at an advantage because we have English as our first language, while it’s his second or third, but linguistic difficulties didn't prevent an onslaught of cursing and references to virginity before "Wait a Minute," another cut off Lex Hives. After 35 minutes of almost mind-numbing noise, jumping split kicks, and standing upon any immobile object on stage, Almqvist stood on top of a speaker, jaunty hand on jaunty hip, and announced “The Hives don't have anything else good to say, so good night!” -- and then he held the mike out to the crowd, and the crowd predictably went berserk. The answer, naturally, was “ Oh, of COURSE we do - you've been following us for 20 years and you know better!” The band then blew up “Hate to Say I Told You So,” but you know damn good and well that they love to say I told you so because you can see it written all over their faces. That moved into “Tick Tick Boom,” the best song off Black & White, and again, more berserker behavior from the crowd. They know how to put on a show, these Hives - Spectacle doesn’t even come close to describing it.
As the encore began, the Hives told the crowd ‘sit on the floor,” and despite their best intuitions, everyone got down on that dirty, sticky floor. Almqvist then stood on a drum kit and continued, “I know you all want a speech. I not good at talking [sic] but here goes. We're going to play a really long song and you can just leave when you are ready. It's got lots of music and lots of stuff so just leave when you need to, but this is the end.” The band then played a mix of “Die, All Right” and “Patrolling Days,” as the crowd leapt back to its feet and cheered for more. After a huge group bow, the evening was over, and the walk-out music was the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Apt? Yes indeed.
As The Hives’ mid-90s brethren have all abandoned the dress-alike color schemes, have broken up and moved on to solo careers, or have just fallen off the planet, this band continues on, oblivious to the changes everyone else made at the turn of the century. Here stand The Hives, 20 years later, playing loud garage punk in matching tuxedoes, so their shows are twinged with a pinch of nostalgia -- but none of that really matters when they get going. You’ll be too busy jumping straight up and down like a lunatic, while Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist screams hilarious lyrics at you with his atonal voice. The Hives are not about to let a complete lack of vocal talent stand in the way of being a damn fine live band. So next time they’re around, go see ‘em, but make sure to bring some earplugs to go with your best top hat.