Swedish outfit The Hives came to Transit, a small club in Philadelphia Friday night, and left little doubt who the reigning champs are in the battle of the retro/punk wave. More polished than the much-maligned Strokes and more entertaining than The White Stripes, The Hives expertly wield the tool of cheese and cockiness to get their message across.
“We are the Hives, we’re from Sweden and we’ve come to play some music . . . is that OK for you?” asked singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist after the final notes of opener and The Who mod-era sounding “The Hives—Declare Guerre Nuclearie.”
No matter what the response, it was obvious Almqvist was not going to stop.
Looking like a 2002 version of an early ‘60s Mick Jagger, he preened and posed, kicked and jumped, all the while playing the band up to the crowd in the third person, speaking like a real-life Hans or Franz. “We are enjoying your country. From the South to the West and now the East. America you people love The Hives, and Philadelphia, you love The Hives.” Almqvist then pointed to the Kiss-like Hives sign behind the band and led them in a spelling lesson. “T-H-E-H-I-V-E-S, what does that spell?”
Clad in all black with white ties neatly tucked into their shirts after the third button down, The Hives tore through much of their first stateside release, Veni, Vidi, Vicious, an album which, as Almqvist was quick to point out, is “a milestone in rock music . . . well, almost.” Out since 1999, the record is finally beginning to break in the U.S. behind the band’s relentless touring, videos on MTV2, and a coveted slot on the Spiderman soundtrack. The single “Hate to Say I Told You So” is heard everywhere, and live, as bassist Dr. Matt Destruction laid down the mid-song break, Almqvist instructed the audience to “Clap along to that! That is the beat of your generation!” before both the song and crowd exploded en masse.
With next to zero promotion over the past few weeks, it was clear that none was necessary. Transit, not known for hosting shows, packed every last person into the club that they could, resulting in a sweaty mass swaying and screaming to “Die, Alright!,” “Outsmarted” and “Statecontrol”, still leaving a hundred or so people outside the club vying to get in—a fact not lost on The Hives.
“How many people live in Philadelphia?” Almqvist asked with apparent sincerity during the encore. “Sir!” he yelled to a man pressed against the stage as he turned the mic stand upside down. “You can answer!”
“Three million,” was the reply.
“This song is dedicated to the 2.9999900 who couldn’t get in it’s called “Knock, Knock!”
Much of The Hives appeal lies in their unassuming but completely aware performance. The songs themselves range between retread and tired to slightly above average, but live they are untouchable. Each note played is presented with a different facial expression. The cocksure poses are aplenty, and the stage banter is comedic, tongue in cheek and sometimes true.
When the in house smoke machine threatened to obscure the band, Almqvist jumped on the opportunity to get off another one liner. “People, people, people,” he said, “Where’s all this smoke coming from? We know we’re a hot band! You want to see us though!” Other times, and it can be attributed to getting lost in the translation, or Almqvist showing some sort of sly frontman tactic when he says things that make no sense whatsoever but end up sounding hilarious. “Because we’re from Sweden, we’re going to have our drummer start off another song.” The meaning behind the statement was non-existent and irrelevant—but the Scandinavian delivery made it hilarious.
Almqvist didn’t quite steal the entire spotlight. During the supremely Stonesy “Main Offender”, the five piece simply froze in mid-motion, much like in the “Hate to Say I Told You So” video. It wasn’t just for a second or two, but for almost a full moment, bringing the audience to a fever pitch level of anticipation before crashing back into the song.
Onstage for less than 40 minutes, The Hives delivered a perfect show. It was just the right dosage to have the fans begging for more and leaving your mark. Before leaving the stage for good, Almqvist had one more bit of information that he needed to relay.
“Goodnight Philadelphia, we’re from Sweden. We love you . . . but you love us more.”
You speak the truth Pelle, Philadelphia loves The Hives.