Photos and Words by David Brendan Hall
With their 2013 full-length debut Silence Yourself, Savages set the bar high – that head-on, post-punk blitz alluded to heavy influence from Psychedelic Furs, Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees while forging its own space among this era’s great heavy rock records. So when sophomore album Adore Life (released in January) took a major tone shift – overall less aggressive, with much more refined production – there wasn’t a shortage of grumbling.
But making the “same” album twice is a bigger mistake than taking the risk of putting out work that reflects the artists’ true headspace, yet doesn’t necessarily cater to the core fan base. And besides, no one who’s witnessed it could hate on Savages’ live show, which Tuesday night at Emo’s in Austin featured nearly the entirety of the England-based quartet’s catalogue – proof via the ferocity of their performance that the two albums combined comprise a masterful maelstrom.
Those who succumbed to Savages’ spell during their early dayss of touring might’ve recognized familiar bookends: “I Am Here” is still the punch-to-the-face call to attention, asserted forcefully by the lunges and flailngs of slender, sharp-eyed frontwoman Jehnny Beth; meanwhile “Fuckers” plays its usual role as the raucous, scathing sendoff. “Sad Person” and the rollicking “City’s Full” – the rhythmic crown jewel of drummer Fay Milton and bassist Ayse Hassan – followed the opening cut as quick left-right hooks, prompting Beth to plunge into the audience, a move she repeated frequently until she ended up kneeling atop the crowd during “Hit Me.”
Most powerhouse among Adore Life tunes were “When in Love,” “The Answer” and “T.I.W.Y.G,” each of them ending in explosive, distortion-washed breakdowns led by guitarist Gemma Thompson. Go figure: the quietest of the new batch, “Adore,” proved the most moving. After two verses followed by her pointed, sing-song query, “Is it human to adore life?,” Jehnny’s quiet a cappella was still mostly drowned out by obnoxious woo-girls/bros. But by the end of the third verse, the air of command in her voice and posture had silenced the modest-sized audience, and as the other three musicians joined for the final crescendo and a row of wide, vertical beams of white light lowered toward the audience’s exultantly reaching hands, the catharsis permeating the room was palpable.
Realistically, that’s because this show’s turnout was made up of mostly hardcore fans – Emo’s was shut down to its half-room setup and even then the space felt emptier than usual. But the faithful proved their worth.
“Will you catch me? Will you catch me if I fall?” inquired Jehnny Beth, down on the barricade again, half-sneering-half-smiling into the faces of front-row fans as she launched into “Husbands.”
And of course they caught her as she dove into the pulsing masses, and held her up without fail whenever she launched herself into the crowd throughout the 18-song gig. So what if the new album represents a fall in the eyes of the broader music community? No matter – there are clearly enough of the fiercely loyal to, quite literally, prop up the band and their still-brightly burning spirit.
I Am Here
Slowing Down the World
When in Love
I Need Something New