Thursday 24 November 2016

Adore Life, and Adore Savages. And the Good Sad Happy Bad. Enjoy It All.

I have patiently waited three and a half years for Savages to return to Norwich. Back in May of 2013, just after the release of debut album Silence Yourself, they played Norwich Arts Centre on a Saturday night. The Son and his then fiancé, now wife, were coming up for the weekend, and I tried interesting them in tickets. I failed. Instead, and in order to make some kind of a point, I bought the album from HMV whilst we were out shopping, and played it non-stop for the remainder of that weekend.

Fast forward to the Spring of 2015 and the line-up announcements for Latitude Festival are being made, and even though I know I will end up buying a ticket, I am still waiting for that one name that will tip me into action, and have me reaching for my credit card. One was Warpaint. The other was Savages. Warpaint, playing on the main Obelisk Arena immediately before Manic Street Preachers and Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds on the Sunday failed to leave a lasting impression. Savages, playing the day before inside the huge marquee that was the Radio 6 Music Stage, engulfed and overwhelmed me with their earth-shattering  and audience-consuming brilliance. I was in the front row of that audience and was left feeling that I had been part of a musical messianic experience.

On a dank Wednesday in November, Savages return from a Summer of outdoor festival shows to play the Nick Raynes LCR in Norwich, an indoor warm-up if you like for their show at Brixton Academy on Friday. With their second album, Adore Life, having been nominated for the Mercury Prize and adding a new testament to their gospel of post-punk revivalism, how will tonight's UEA gig compare?

There is some confusion about the support act. We are expecting Mica Levi (she of Micachu and The Shapes, and composer of that tingling and award-winning soundtrack to Jonathan Glazer's 2014 film Under The Skin, starring Scarlett Johanssen), yet the set times indicate that the openers will be Good Sad Happy Bad. Even as the three-piece combination of guitarist, drummer and keyboards/vocalist take the stage the penny has not dropped, and no introductory bones are thrown in our direction. Theirs is a relatively lo-fi sound, some neat keyboard effects, competent vocals, but driven along by some really tight drumming and some proficient, but almost nonchalant, guitar work from the far side of the stage. As the set progresses their is little in the way of song introductions or namechecks, and I have to admit that there is nothing that is instantly recognisable.

Mica Levi

Only afterwards, when it is too late, do I remember that Good Sad Happy Bad was the title of Micachu and The Shapes' 2015 album release, tracks off which would have been played during their visit last October to Norwich Arts Centre. What Mica Levi, Raisa Khan and Marc Pell have only gone and done is changed their band name to that of their last album. The clues were all there, I simply failed to acknowledge them. Were these the tracks that made up their opening set, or was it all new material? I am embarrassed to have to admit that my memory is not that good, and I have not heard Good Sad Happy Bad enough times to be able to conclusively answer that question. I apologise for not realising that the tousle-haired figure in baggy trousers and leather jacket was actually Ms Levi, or recognising the other two members of the band. But perhaps that was the point? By coming on stage and impressing us as much as they did in a semi-anonymous way, Levi and Co. had achieved their objectives. Making me wonder that this trio was some French small-town indie punk band plucked from obscurity by Jehnny Beth and Johnny Hostile could have been part of some cunning complicit Gallic plan. Who knows? I'm just glad that the truth became apparent in time for me to write this review. They have left me feeling good and sad and happy and bad.

The floor of the LCR has bulked out a little but is by no means full, even by the time the lights dim and a live recording of Leonard Cohen's 'A Thousand Kisses Deep' serves as an apt and moving introduction to Savages' entrance. Over at The Waterfront (the other UEA Students Union venue) The Damned are performing as part of this year's 40th anniversary of punk celebrations, and may have siphoned off part of tonight's potential audience. Oddly though, the audience demograph here seems depleted on undergraduates and late-teen/twenty-somethings, not the 1976 punk nostalgics.

 In fact, to those of us old enough to have seen The Damned back in the late seventies, Savages' front woman Jehnny Beth, with short dark hair slicked neatly back, dressed in black and white and performing against a monochrome stage, bears a striking resemblance to a young Dave Vanian. Like the Transylvanian prince of punk before her, Beth prowls the stage like a predatory panther, surveying her audience, making direct eye contact and engaging in one-on-one acknowledgements. But, unlike Vanian, she is not out to shock or alienate. In the true spirit of Adore Life tonight's performance is all about communion. It is about love and life, and loving life. It is still strongly aligned with taking no shit, and standing up for each other, but is also about beauty and sex and passion. Very French. J'adore.


Whilst Jehnny Beth snakes her way around the stage, she oozes style and works her voice into a primal force that we may try to label as Siouxie or Patti Smith-like, but in reality has now formed its own unique ipseity. Meanwhile bassist Ayse Hassan conjures deep throaty notes out of her instrument that are released with devastating precision. She bounces on her toes during the up-tempo songs, and sways seductively during the moodier passages, but always seems to know instinctively when to temper her playing so as not to swamp Gemma Thompson's frequent forays into spiraling swirls of sustained distortion, which themselves return to roost on majestically melodic passages. And perched on the plinth above them all is the beautiful Fay Milton on drums - the closest there can be to a percussive paradise, sometimes overlooked but so, so instrumental in powering the essence of the Savages sound.

The band plays for what must be an hour and a half, during which time we probably heard each and every song off both Silence Yourself  and Adore Life (although I don't remember hearing the gentler and sensitive Marshall Dear). There is the, by now, obligatory journeying into the audience by Jehnny Beth during Hit Me, a kneeling excursion that is curtailed only by the localised concentration of raised arms. Despite earlier calls for the entire audience to move forwards and fill the open spaces on the sunken dance floor of the LCR, many still remain at their vantage points atop the surrounding raised areas.

For those who chose to throw themselves into the small but tight mosh area in front of the stage this must have been an amazing performance, one to remember for years to come. After all, you never glance behind you to check what is happening at the back of the room. Viewed from slightly further back, and reporting as an objective observer, I would have to say that this audience was not quite as universally energetic as was present at Latitude, and Brixton will surely go absolutely ballistic on Friday, but let not that detract from Savages' determination to put on a good show for the good folk of Norfolk. Just remember that, as in life, the more of yourself that you are prepared to put into a Savages show, the more you will get out of it. Adore Life, and Savages will adore you. As those that today are nursing their bruised and battered bodies will testify.

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