A populist tyrant of the stage, Almqvist gratified himself while fulfilling the whims of the masses at the same time. When he screamed, so did everyone else. When he demanded clapping, the crowd enthusiastically obliged. When he broached the sacrosanct and requested cheers befitting of the hallowed Prince, no one cried foul.
Band Most Convinced They’re the Greatest in the World: If nothing else, the Hives are deserving of that title. You need only ask Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, their swaggering, cocksure smart aleck lead singer. He sweats showmanship, expectorates chutzpah, and pisses panache. Needless to say, he’s the magnetic centerpiece of the Hives’ much heralded and manically invigorating live performance. The show opened with a recorded playing of “A Stroll through Hive Manor Corridors”, which was an appropriately self-referencing start for a night marked by crowd-pleasing indulgence. The five members then emerged, sporting synchronized black-and-white threads, and proceeded to kick out a dozen or so tight blasts of sleek pop-punk. Collectively, their energy was immediate and unmitigated. But many crowd members could have easily missed all but Almqvist. From the moment he strutted on stage, he transformed the crowd into a happily captive audience. A populist tyrant of the stage, Almqvist gratified himself while fulfilling the whims of the masses at the same time. His scissor-kicking, mic-twirling, Mick Jagger-studied swagger, were giddy visual pleasures as he crisscrossed the platform. When he screamed, so did everyone else. When he demanded clapping, the crowd enthusiastically obliged. When he broached the sacrosanct and requested cheers befitting of the hallowed Prince, no one cried foul. A telling window into his shtick came when he paused for a moment to introduce himself, asking in the adulation. It was as if the heavens had opened up and the glory of the rock gods had shone upon him. Yet he stopped short of extending that common courtesy to any of his band mates. They remained anonymous; the workhorses to Almqvist’s show pony, rocking out as he rabble-roused. But all of Almqvist’s ostentatious antics would be superfluous if the Hives didn’t deliver as a unit. From Veni Vidi Vicious to The Black and White Album, their fleet and punchy tunes have always been stage-ready. Unburdened of studio cleanliness and garnished with jolts of spontaneity, in the live environment they beamed and crackled like sonic weaponry. As expected, the set list favored their kinetic but less essential latest album. The crowd didn’t discriminate against any of the output, though. They blithely caroused as the band belted out pulsating renditions of “Square One Here I Come”, “You Dress Up for Armageddon”, and “Won’t Be Long”. From the same batch, “Try It Again” was an early highlight while “Tick Tick Boom”, which Almqvist mined for spirited fan involvement, was a joyous late evening hit. Economized playing time notwithstanding, the Hives still managed to squeeze in a string of past hits that they didn’t so much dust off as they did pummel back into existence. The jittery “Die, All Right!” was as unexpectedly delightful as “Hate to Say I Told You So”, and “Walk Idiot Walk” was a predictable but potent hit with the crowd. During a break, Almqvist swung from showmanship to self-deprecation, dubbing himself an arrogant provocateur whose sole skill in life was, well, arrogant provocation. Then he rambled somewhat before arriving at a more apt description. He was the “main offender”, a title which prefaced their aggressive song of the same name. The night’s showstopper was also the set’s boldest aberration. The tempo downshifted from racing to mid-range, and the theatrics briefly halted with “Diabolic Scheme”, the impossibly nervy and noirish neo-ballad from 2004’s Tyrannosaurus Hives. The rendition was stunning, sounding simultaneously compressed and percolated. Almqvist abetted the song’s latter tendencies with volatile vocals and the lyrics’ cryptic chattiness (“So what’s the attraction / The suckers sing / Prolific depth or static cling?”). If the rest of the set was the sound of unhinged gunfire, “Diabolic Scheme” was a controlled explosion. From start to finish, the Hives performed with passion and playfulness, authority and adolescent arrogance. These qualities emanated from Almqvist, as did a peculiar kind of generosity. He didn’t have to engage the crowd with wry banter between each song. He didn’t have to ingratiate himself with harmless digs at the weakened state of the dollar or his talk that, if those present didn’t cheer excitedly, the “monsters” of Minneapolis would put an end to the night. Almqvist did all this while also helming a riotously thrilling spectacle of rock ‘n roll. He wanted the audience to be part of his world and join his cause, even if, indisputably, it was his world and his cause. Despite what Almqvist might want us to believe, the Hives are not the greatest band in the world. But, after the sustained jolt of their live show, they might be your favorite underdogs.