Savages Level Taft in Intense Cincinnati Debut

Photos by Chromatic Anthem

Can we stop comparing Savages to other bands yet? Can we cease dragging every story and review about them through an encyclopedia of post-punk history? Despite plenty of sonic echoes, such discussion merely sells short one of the most ferocious and creative groups working today. Two albums in, the London-based quartet has proven themselves capable of almost anything, melding pointed commentary, impassioned performances, and genuine earnest hope. All of this was on splendid display when Savages made their deafening and stunning Cincinnati debut on Tuesday night at the Ballroom at Taft Theatre.

From the second they hit the first notes of “City’s Full,” the quartet was at full force. At stage left, bassist Ayse Hassan stayed locked into the groove, eyes closed, bobbing to the fevered drumming of her rhythm section partner Fay Milton and occasionally mouthing the words. Opposite her, guitarist Gemma Thompson was the portrait of calm, sending bent notes down canyons of reverb, which reemerged sharp as glass. At the center of it all was singer Jehnny Beth, laser focused, jarringly intense. Much of this year’s video for “Adore” featured a closeup on Beth’s near-unblinking gaze while she sang; that sharp stare was a permanent presence onstage as well, fixed on the crowd, on a bandmate, or on an arbitrary point on the floor or above our heads. She was in constant motion, drawing circles in the air with cupped hands, pounding the backbeat into the stage with her heel, her every move seemingly propelled by by the music. The proceedings were illuminated blindingly and perfectly by a carefully choreographed light show, casting eerie shadows on the Ballroom’s ceiling and crosscutting the stage with bars of hot white light.

The evening leaned heavily towards their sophomore effort Adore Life, released in January and performed nearly in its entirety at the Taft. The arrangements of the new material don’t stray too far from the the palette of their 2013 masterstroke debut Silence Yourself, but it’s compositionally ambitious and gives Beth’s jawdropping voice more room to stretch out (see: “Surrender”). Lead single “The Answer” churned with seething, wild fervency, and “T.I.W.Y.G.” gained a rumbling exoskeleton from Milton’s skilled hands. Savages are masters of tension, and, when they will it, release. The latter, though, is doled out sparingly, almost as if they granted it when they felt we as a crowd had earned it. Because of this, a Savages show is incredibly dense; despite clocking in at exactly 70 minutes, it easily felt like twice that. Beth spent much of the set locking eyes and hands with members of the raucous crowd, packed in per her orders at the front of the stage, and she ventured out into the audience, standing astride a copse of raised hands during a dizzying “Hit Me,” a bombastic and widely misunderstood exercise in sex positivity.

For all of this talk of intensity, don’t think a Savages show is a joyless experience; it is, in fact, the opposite. There is sometimes a twinkle hiding in Beth’s gaze, which occasionally bursts into a full grin. And the whole show culminated in the one-two punch of “Adore” and “Fuckers,” still heavy, but each utterly anthemic. “Maybe I’ll die, maybe tomorrow/So I need to say/I adore life.” Cheesy, perhaps, when read on a page, but in concert it’s enough to bring you to your knees. The Cincinnati crowd was rowdy, but you could hear a pin drop in the ten second silence between those last two lines. Savages did not return for an encore after the devilish co-opted dance beat of “Fuckers” (which was dedicated to Suicide co-founder Alan Vega, who passed away over the weekend), but what else was left to be said? Savages are still a young band, with hopefully a lot more music ahead of them, but they’re already performing at such a high level it boggles the mind to think of what could come next. One of the world’s great live bands that graced our city this week.

Auckland, New Zealand duo A Dead Forest Index opened the show to a slowly-gathering crowd, and their haunting dissonant folk rock fit the anxious mood of the evening. Brothers Adam and Sam Sherry, on guitar and drums, respectively, relied mostly on songs from this spring’s beautiful full-length debut In All That Drifts from Summit Down. Tempos and time signatures dissolved and reformed, shaped by Sam’s syncopated drumming, and tinges of eerie dissonance peeked out through Adam’s loop pedal-layered vocal harmonies. Gemma Thompson made a guest appearance on the record, and their addition to the tour was both apt and inspired; these two are well worth a listen.

Savages setlist:
City’s Full
Slowing Down the World
Shut Up
When In Love
Sad Person
I Need Something New
The Answer
Hit Me
No Face

View the full photoset here!