The Hives + The Soundtrack of Our Lives

[29 May 2002]

By Jessica Hodges

The Hives
Photo credit: Kristian Anttila

The Soundtrack of Our Lives

There are two things you should know before reading this review. One, when Poptones released Your New Favourite Band I bought it and bought in. Two, this is the first gig I have actually purchased tickets for in eons… and I bought them three months ago, shortly after purchasing my new CD. Anyone reading this on Popmatters has, at one time or another, surely felt jaded. Too many bad gigs, too many pushy crowds, too much spilled beer. No, this does not mean I stopped seeing live music, it just means I usually only go if I’m comped. That may make me old, but it also makes me picky so when I say the show was good, you can know it means something.

The recent onslaught of derivative retrogressive rock has revived many an old rock fan like me. Nu-metal was getting a lot of us down. The joy of hearing proper punk undertones played by young kids thrills 30 something London. The open arms embrace which bands like the Strokes and the White Stripes have been greeted with has no doubt be extended to the Hives and should be extended to their special guests as well.

Opening the show at Brixton was the prog/punk rock fusion that is The Soundtrack of Our Lives (TSOOL). I know, I know that is an oxymoron. Punk was the answer to Prog, right? But there is a new generation in town. Dare I say it is the late Gen Xers with our multi-media capabilities that allow for such a contradiction to come together? Rock history is not being rewritten; it is just being re-lived.

Those of us too young to have seen the Big Rock or the Punk Rock shows of the ‘70s may feel we missed something crucial. But the sound and the feel—or at least the nostalgia for those times—can now be indulged. I heard some one say that The Soundtrack of Our Lives are doing for the ‘70s what Oasis did for the ‘60s. They are too right. Let’s just hope their egos don’t eat them the way the G brothers’ have.

The six-man band, lead by a big hairy man (Ebbot Lundberg) wearing a muumuu, played a short and sweet set featuring their Big Rock tunes “21st Century Rip Off”, “Sister Surround” and air-guitar must “Intra Riot”. The rock star vogue-ing of guitarist Ian Persson increased the need to shake hair and play air. Drum sticks twirled and for a moment Brixton Academy was transformed into an arena. Could the Hives, with their own band of retro-fusion, follow up?

Oh, yes, baby.

It is of a different flavour, but the derivative sound of “Supply and Demand”, and “a.k.a I-D-I-O-T” was satisfying live. Their UK release, a combination of three previous releases from Burning Hearts Records, takes derivative rock to a new level. Listening straight through you can hear the Stooges, Bad Religion, and Dick Dale. But, unlike the Strokes and often the White Stripes, the polish they have put on those sounds makes the music new and fresh, and undeniably theirs. Their use of theatre and humour, in everything they do, assures they won’t be mistaken for wanna-bes or tribute artists. They know what they are doing and their purpose justifies the use of past sounds. The Hives may wear their influences on their well-tailored sleeves, but it never feels like a copy.

What they lacked live was a depth to their sound, which TSOOL seem to have mastered. But while TSOOL’s sound evoked nostalgia for a time and a place, the Hives set evoked nostalgia for their very own album. It was as if they wanted us to taste the goods, but know we could only get more at home.

Lead singer Howlin Pelle Almqvist made up for any lack of phat sound with his commanding presence, self-promoting crowing, and spastic Jagger strutting. There was no need for fancy staging. The band was the spectacle in their black shirt and white ties with their name hanging over them in lights. It is obvious they love themselves and they knew we were there to love them too.

The most breath taking moment of the show was a full stop in the middle of big hit “Main Offender”. The band froze and the light dropped and with only a hint of smoke surrounding them, this Swedish band created an incredible picture on stage. The acknowledgment of the power of an image in a raw live set was breath taking. I for one have never seen a band use their live show to promote a visual image in quite the same way. The final number, “Hate to Say I Told You So” left me gasping but satisfied. .

With tongues firmly in their cheeks, the Hives gave London what it wanted on a Saturday night and they did not try for more. The short set, like their short album, suits them. They wound the London audience up, but did not take the piss. They gave us the hits and not much more. They walked off satisfied and sent us home smiling.

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